The sacred bull and the chastised chastity ring
THIS morning, like every morning, Shambo the bull will rise with the Welsh dawn, masticate thoughtfully and prepare for another day of worship and adoration. Being a bull, albeit a divine one, it's probably a fair bet that Shambo is as unaware of the fuss his continued hold on life is causing, as he is ignorant of the Mycobacterium bovis bacteria coursing through his body
Rather later in the morning, we might guess, Lydia Playfoot will also rise and prepare for another day at school. Whatever her morning rituals and ablutions, they won't involve putting on a silver ring bearing a reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4. To save you looking for your King James authorised, the verses read: "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour." Ms Playfoot is 16, and although she lamentably seems to prefer the graceless Good News Bible translation of the scripture ("God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of sexual sin ..."), she is aware that her jewellery is causing at least as much fuss as Shambo and his infectious tuberculosis.
Both the bull and the ring have, figuratively at least, been in the courts this week. And, of course, our learned friends have handed down two verdicts that are each in their own ways quite wrong.
First, the unwitting Shambo. He may have TB, he may be a risk both to other cattle and even humans, and there may be a legal obligation for him to be humanely slaughtered like thousands of others so affected. But so far, the Skanda Vale Community of Hindus that maintains Shambo in enviable comfort has successfully argued that to kill him would be in contradiction of their legal rights to religious freedom.
They're wrong, of course, and not just in the opinion of the Welsh Assembly government or the National Farmers Union. According to Jay Lakhani, director of education at the Hindu Council UK, if there is even the slightest risk of the disease spreading to other animals or even humans, the only answer is to put down the animal. "The life of the bull is sacred, but so are the lives of other livestock or humans who may - even accidentally - come in contact with this bull."
As for Ms Playfoot, she lost a High Court challenge against her Sussex school's decision to stop her wearing her "chastity ring". School policy bans the wearing of jewellery, but offers an exemption to jewellery considered to be religious in nature - like, for instance, the Kara bangles worn by some Sikhs. The court upheld the school's right to ban Ms Playfoot's ring.
The National Secular Society has supported the judgment against the Playfoot family, whom it accuses of a "manipulative attempt to impose a particular religious viewpoint". Now, I consider myself a secularist and I have a lot of sympathy for the society, but this strikes me as a hysterical over-reaction. The suggestion that the wearing of a piece of jewellery somehow foists a belief on someone else, crusader-style, is patently silly. Belief, unlike tuberculosis, is not a biological agent that can infect unwitting victims. Ms Playfoot's ring, like the priest's dog-collar, the Muslim's veil and the Sikh's turban, may irritate, anger or even offend. But unlike Shambo's bacteria, they cannot do harm.
THE libertarian argument is compelling, but Ms Playfoot's precise case raises some yet more intriguing questions. She argued that she should be allowed to wear her ring because her school allows the display of other religious symbols, such as crucifixes, headscarves and bracelets. Yet the court has effectively ruled that Ms Playfoot's ring is not a "proper" symbol of faith. Apparently, the court presumes to know better than she does the nature of her relationship with the divine. I'm all for strong and independent judges, but this is surely judicial overreach.
The idea that the state has any place in certifying or regulating which items, vestments, and totems are a legitimate symbol of faith has a disturbingly 17th-century resonance. Consider the surplice. There is no mention of surplices or other priestly garb in the Bible, so are they proper symbols of faith or empty affectations? King James I and VI, who gave us that elegant and unified translation of the Bible, sometimes took pleasure in goading those puritans who saw surplices, wedding rings and even the cross as "indifferent things" with no religious meaning. Ultimately, the king's insistence on the earthly trappings of faith drove a small number of clergymen out of the Church of England and out of Britain; some of them were persecuted and imprisoned; others were the men now known in the United States as the Pilgrim Fathers.
Surely we cannot still cling to the idea that the state and the leaders of recognised churches get to decide what constitutes a legitimate symbol of belief? Never mind our very modern veneration for individuals and their "lifestyle choices", there is a rather older precedent for leaving people alone to worship in their own way and according to their own conscience: it was called the Reformation. If Ms Playfoot believes her ring is essential to her relationship with her God, who can honestly contradict her? Likewise the members of the Skanda Vale Community: no-one has any right to question whether Shambo really is sacred to them; only his unfortunate propensity to harm others gives us any right to intervene.
The only time the state has any business telling people how, what, when or where to worship is when that worship stands to harm others. In every other case, the courts, the government, and the rest of us, no matter how strongly we feel, should mind our own business.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east