Visible signs of faith

16th February 2007 at 00:00
Dr Martin Price is vice-chair of governors at St Richard Gwyn RC high school, Barry

A number of questions arise for those of us who work in the faith-based sector after seeing the headline "School bans girl from wearing crucifix"

in the national press.

The incident came not long after British Airways climbed down when an airport check-in worker challenged a ban on her visibly wearing a Christian cross necklace. The airline now allows religious symbols, such as lapel pins, and "some flexibility for individuals to wear a symbol of faith on a chain".

But symbols are important. For Christians, wearing a cross is one of the most important visible signals of their faith. As for a crucifix, we have one in every classroom.

We have a large one suspended in a shelter where pupils congregate at break and lunchtime when it is too wet or cold to play football or run about outside.

It came from a redundant local church, where it had been donated by an elderly gentleman in memory of his late wife.

This man had settled in the town after escaping persecution in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. It was salutary to watch the expression on his face at its unveiling in our new building. He was watching the children for whom this symbol would be an important part of their memory of school when they have left.

Our other major symbol is on the side of the school. One of our teachers subverted the original plan of the architect to have a geometrical design on the side of the building using the large cladding tiles.

She suggested a better and more poignant pattern to the builders. That is why a passer-by can have no doubt when they see the black, 20ft-high cross, which is integral to the building, that we are a faith-based school. That is what I call a symbol.

Finally, to go back to our original problem about whether it is appropriate to wear a crucifix on a chain round your neck at school, I consulted one of my mentors who attended a convent grammar school in the 1960s.

She was allowed to wear a crucifix on a chain provided it was kept under her clothes and not visible. But she also recalled the religious medal that was sewn into her liberty bodice.

I wonder if the governing body also had a policy on liberty bodices. Now that is something to conjure with.

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