The High Court has awarded victory to a Sikh schoolgirl who was excluded from school for wearing a religious bangle, upholding a 25-year-old Law Lords ruling allowing Sikhs to wear items representing their faith.
The human rights group Liberty, representing 14-year-old Sarika Singh, successfully argued that Aberdare Girls’ School in South Wales breached race relations and equality laws by excluding her since November 2007 for wearing the kara (a plain single bangle widely accepted as a central tenet of the Sikh race and religion).
Liberty filed the legal challenge in the High Court on 19 December 2007 which argued that the Governing Body of the Aberdare Girls’ School had indirectly discriminated on the grounds of race contrary to the Race Relations Act 1976; breached the duty to promote equality under s71 Race Relations Act 1976; indirectly discriminated on the ground of religion or belief contrary to the Equality Act 2006; and breached the Human Rights Act 1998 Article 8 (the right to a private life).
Anna Fairclough, Liberty’s Legal Officer representing the Singhs, said:
“This common sense judgment makes clear you must have a very good reason before interfering with someone’s religious freedom. Our great British traditions of religious tolerance and race equality have been rightly upheld today.”
Noting that schools have a role to play in developing principles of religious and racial tolerance in its pupils, Mr Justice Silber said in his judgment:
“Without those principles being adopted in a school, it is difficult to see how a cohesive and tolerant multi-cultural society can be built in this country … I hope that the school will take all possible steps to ensure first that [she] can become quickly assimilated again within the school and second that there will be no bullying of her for racial or religious reasons.”
Singh, of mixed Welsh/Punjabi origin, has been raised in the Sikh faith and was the only Sikh at the Aberdare Girls’ School. The school’s uniform policy prohibits the wearing of any jewellery other than a wrist watch and plain ear studs. When the school noticed that Singh was wearing the kara, she was isolated for two months, including during meals and physical education classes despite her offer to remove or cover the Kara during exercise, before being excluded entirely in November 2007.
The BBC News website has a good summary of recent School and religious symbol cases and, even on a cursory read, is is clear that they lack a cohesive thread. It is difficult to see why a kara bracelet is allowed, but a “purity ring” is not; or why jilbabs may be banned, but hijabs may not.
BTW, I would recommend not searching for the term “kara” on Google images – especially if your employers are interested in the kind of images you view on your work PC. Don’t say i didn’t warn you!