I guess most people have seen this story from last Friday:
A 16-year-old girl has gone to the High Court to accuse her school of discriminating against Christians by banning the wearing of “purity rings”.
Lydia Playfoot was told by Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex, to remove her ring, which symbolises chastity, or face expulsion.
The school denies breaching her human rights, insisting the ring is not an essential part of the Christian faith.
On Friday, judgement in the case was reserved to a future date.
The story’s certain had plenty of press coverage of late – no less than three articles in the Telegraph since April, one each in the Observer and the Guardian and two from the Daily Mail, who first picked up on the story on October last year – a date that will become all the more significant in a moment – all of which are prominently linked on Playfoot’s own website, www.purityring.org.uk.
Now. according to this report in the Telegraph, the backstory to this case runs as follows:
Miss Playfoot chose to wear the ring after an event held two years ago by an American Christian movement, The Silver Ring Thing, which promotes abstinence before marriage and has encouraged a growing number of adolescents to make “a pledge of chastity”.
The ring refers to the Biblical quote: “God wants you to be holy and completely free from sexual immorality. Each of you men should know how to live with his wife in a holy and honourable way”.
Initially it did not cause a stir at the school. But after a dozen other girls started wearing the rings Miss Playfoot was asked to remove hers on the grounds that it broke the school’s no-jewellery policy and it could injure someone if she fell and used her hand to steady herself.
When she refused she was placed “in isolation”, missing classes and studying on her own. “I was surprised because the people who get put in isolation are caught smoking and are really rude and outrageous,” she said. “I thought, why am I here? I didn’t feel as if I’d done anything wrong.”
Her family claims that the school suggested she could attach the ring to her school bag, but if that was not acceptable she might have to look for a school that would allow her to wear it.
Although Miss Playfoot has not worn the ring in classes since last April, she decided to take the school to the High Court “because I didn’t want them to think that they had won. You can’t treat Christians like this”.
Before moving ahead, I should point out that the ‘Biblical Quote’ in question – from 1 Thessalonians – is one where there is considerable debate as the correct translation from the original Greek, not least because its one of quotations that’s frequently cited by Evangelical Christians in support of their being a specific New Testament injunction against homosexuality. It could mean pretty much what the article claims, or it could mean specifically that ‘god wants you to be pure by staying clear of the temple prostitutes’, but what the hell, if Playfoot and her family want to put the ‘virginity pledge’ interpretation on the passage then that’s really up to them.
One feature in this that no one seems to be noting or commenting on is the point about the schools appearing to have no great problem over this whole ring business until a whole bunch of other girls joined in, which you might easily think is just an indication that the whole got to be a bid of a fad amongst a few of Playfoot’s friends.
However, there are a few pieces of information that haven’t made it in to print that raise one or two questions about Playfoot and this case, information that is conspicuous by its absence from the press coverage.
Let’s start with Playfoot and her parents, Heather and Phil, who, as has been widely reported, in the full time pastor at the King Church in Horsham.
So far, so good.
But what none of the articles mention is that Heather Playfoot is the company secretary of Silver Ring Thing (UK) Ltd, a not for profit company set up in the last year as the UK arm (or perhaps franchise might be a better term) of the Philadelphia-based originators of this programme.
Fans of the lies, damn lies and statistics school of thought might enjoy a page from the US website called ‘Teen STDs: Just the facts“, which omits one important statistic – 80% of teenagers taking the ‘chastity pledge’ in the US, end up having sex well before they ever get married. But then that’s not such a problem, as being a forgiving bunch, if you fall off the chastity wagon you can always do a resit (for a fee) and retake the pledge – nothing yet, however, to suggest that this mat get taken to its next logical step, the miracle of the immaculate restored hymen, possibly because they’re unsure how to price that service against stiff price competition for virgins from the greasy pervert market.
And Phil? Oh, he’s the Parents Programme Director of Silver Ring Thing (UK) Ltd.
Both work with Andy Robinson, who’s described as the head of the SRT programme in the UK and its:
…official promoter, distributor and Managing Director of The Silver Ring Thing (UK) Ltd. Andy is now the full time youth pastor for Kings Church in Horsham. Up until Dec 2005 Andy was the Sales Director for an international software company.
Robinson’s wife is, by the way, the UK programme director for… yes, you guessed it – Silver Ring Thing (UK) Ltd.
(Is it me or this all starting to sound a bit Watchdog/That’s Life?)
Robinson’s name is also on the Nominet registration for Silver Ring Thing (UK)’s website – http://www.silverringthing.org.uk – which is registered to what looks to be his home address in Horsham, and on the registration for ‘Playfoot’s’ website, although on this occasion he’s chosen to have his address omitted from the registration information on display – both trace back to the same IP address.
In fact, Andy couldn’t be more helpful and supportive of
his franchise, oops, Playfoot’s human rights case, not only is he helpfully fielding all media enquiries, in conjunction with Paul Eddy of Paul Eddy PR in Bournmouth (Eddy also handles the PR and media relations for, amongst others, the Lawyer’s Christian Fellowship – who’re backing this case, of course – and other related Evangelical Christian pressure groups, which I guess makes him god’s own Max Clifford) but he’d be absolutely delighted to talk to journalists on Playfoot’s behalf:
Lydia Playfoot will not be giving any further interviews until the judgement has been handed down. However, Andy Robinson, director of the Silver Ring Thing will be delighted to help journalists. – from Playfoot’s website.
No such thing as bad publicity, eh? Especially when its free publicity, and the legal tab is (apparently) being picked up by donations – Playfoot’s’site’ has the obligatory donate button and tip jar.
No such thing as uncoached comments from Playfoot either, it seems, as Andy is also the ghost author of the press statement (pdf) issued on Playfoot’s behalf, which has been issued through
Andy’s her website. Tsk – silly boy didn’t bother to clean out the document properties before posting the document to the website.
Oh, and did I mention that Playfoot’s left the school in question now (she is sixteen) so for her the whole ‘ring thing’ is a non-issue, personally, but obviously very much an issue for both her parents and Andy Robinson, as its the right of schools to enforce a uniform policy at the expense of their franchise that looks to be on trial here.
Oops, do I keep saying ‘franchise’? Silly me…
Right, let’s get to the bottom line.
Silver Ring Thing’s website doesn’t state what the cost of attending its four week ‘chastity course’ is (attendance required to get the ring) although it does ask for donations of £20 to cover the costs of those poor unfortunate kids who can’t afford to attend a course, and the ring itself is reported to cost £10 for the first one and £13 plus P&P for a replacement ring, which you can buy only if you show up on their database as having previously completed a course – at least I think its SRT’s database as there’s currently no registration on file for the company on the Information Commissioner’s Register of Data Controllers – oops.
Come on folks – £35 a year’s not that much to stump up to make your database all nice and legal. God would approve…
SRT’s online shop give a few more clues about the likely costs of their courses. It’s £40 for a ‘Leader’s Pack’ and £20 a piece for the Parent Pack and Student Pack – I guess that’s where the £20 donation for poor virgins goes – plus there’s a nice selection of t-shirts, baseball caps and beanies at £15 a time, badges and stickers (£5 for 8 ) and a hoodie for £20 -I guess this is one bunch of hoodies that Cameron won’t mind hugging, given half a chance.
But never mind all that, because it’s Playfoot’s ‘human rights’ that are really at stake here, even though chastity rings have no recognised status in the Christian religion whatsoever… well not outside SRT’s marketing department.
Now here’s a funny thing, as well.
In addition to using Phil Eddy PR for the media handling for this case, the SRT website also carries on its staff page, a photograph of a ‘media consultant’ named Denise Pfeiffer, although there’s no text profile for her at the moment, and a previous version of this page, which includes her profile has unfortunately not been cached by Google.
But not to worry, because a Google search for Pfeiffer does throw up some of the text that was picked up by Google’s spiders, text which describes her as:
a freelance writer and model based in the Midlands . She specialises in supplying wholesome, quality features to women’s magazines …
Which is obviously important as, according to her press statement, Playfoot feels really strongly about the way women are presented as sexual objects…
Increasingly, girls in particular are not looked on as human beings with value, and worth who have the right to say no to sex, or to keep sex for a loving, long-term relationship in marriage. It causes me great sadness to think that girls are often looked on as just sexual objects and others expect them to want sex and agree to sex, whatever the level of relationship.
Bit odd that, don’t you think?
The photo of Ms Pfeiffer is still on SRTs website – in fact, the photo they’re using is a cropped version of the photo below, which is by C Potter and which appears on her portfolio on the UK Model Jobs Pro website:
And very wholesome it is too, however there is also another photograph in her portfolio which, while wholesome enough as far as I’m concerned, may explain the sudden absence of any text on the SRT website referring to Pfeiffer and her modelling career…
UPDATE: It would appear that Ms Pfeiffer has become aware of this article and has removed the rather tasteful lingerie shot from her modelling profile and replaced it with this somewhat more demure effort.
Which is all rather a shame as now you’ll just have to make do with this photograph of Ms Pfeiffer is tasteful lingerie instead:
In case anyone’s wondering what the most appropriate quote for the occasion might be, can I recommend a slight paraphrase of this little gem, as spoken by Riddick in Pitch Black:-
“Did not know who [s]he was fuckin’ with.”
Oh, there’ll a bit more on Ms Pfeiffer on my follow-up post – Asexual Nazi’s for God – in a few minutes
[Now back to the original story]
What was that you were saying
Andy, err Lydia?
It causes me great sadness to think that girls are often looked on as just sexual objects…
Mmm… is Denise in the Evangelical doghouse over her lingerie shots, do you think?
But if so, why ditch the profile text from the staff page but not the photo?
Of course, there is the other possibility – that Denise is still very much in the fold (hence the photo) but that SRT figured that while the pretty lingerie shot in her portfolio didn’t quite fit the outraged moral crusader image they’re trying to weave around Playfoot, the simple expedient of removing her profile (and any reference to her modelling career) might be enough to throw journalists off the scent…
…which it seems to have done as this is yet another facet to this story that has had precisely zero attention… until us naughty inquisitive bloggers started poking around, of course.
But what the hell, its too late to be worrying about trifles like this, even if does make you curious about the full ‘why’ (and when) of this change to their website.
So where does all this leave us?
Well, with a conundrum for starters.
Why, if this ring was not apparently a problem at the outset, when Playfoot shipped up to school with it, did it suddenly become a problem later on, when the wearing of these rings started to spread to other girls.
To be honest, the whole uniform policy thing on jewellery has always been a bit vague – schools generally are not keen on kids wearing much more in the way of visible jewellery than plain ear studs, but when asked why tend to waffle on unconvincingly about health and safety and uniform policy without the greatest sense of conviction that they’re clear about why the don’t want kids wearing rings and other items of jewellery. If anything, the impression I’ve always got is that, deep down, schools just don’t want the hassle of dealing with irate parents if their precious daughter’s expensive jewellery gets lost or stolen during school time, so banning the wearing the of jewellery is a just a means to a bit quieter life and one less hassle to worry about.
What seems clear, however, is that the reports suggest that the school stepped in only after the chastity ring fad started to spread to other girls, which suggests that they may have been less concerned about the rings themselves than about our young heroine going about the school as a self-appointed ‘virgins for god’ recruiting sergeant – in which case the school would certainly have had a point in clamping down on this whole ring business. Religious freedom is one thing, Evangelical groups priming their kids to try and recruit followers during school hours is quite another and no school should be required to tolerate or accept organised proselytising in the playground.
Beyond that, one has to question not only the merits of Playfoot’s case but the motives of the people around her, especially if one factors in the ‘elephant in the room’ that the press are assiduously ignoring, the very obvious interest that both the Playfoots (Playfeet?) and Robinsons have, as directors of Silver Ring Thing (UK) Ltd, in obtaining a High Court ruling that gives their chastity campaign the legal cover of the Human Rights Act.
The more one examines the background to this case, the more one has to wonder whether what’s really being sought in the High Court is not legal support for the rights of individual teenagers to wear chastity rings in schools, but legal support for the efforts of an Evangelical Christian group to turn schools into recruiting offices for their particular US-import brand of god regardless of the wishes of schools, their governing bodies or the parents of other children.
Oh, and one more thing. Dates.
Remember right at the start of all this I mentioned that the date of the first Daily Mail coverage of the Playfoot’s case – which was this article on 17th October 2006?
Well, three days later, something else interesting happened, according to Companies House…
The WebCHeck service is available from Monday to Saturday 7.00am to 12 Midnight UK Time
Name & Registered Office:
SILVER RING THING (UK) LTD
23 HAZEL CLOSE, SOUTHWATER
Company No. 05973106
Date of Incorporation: 20/10/2006
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Now that is a coincidence, isn’t it?