Not Saussure

May 14, 2007

Getting cross about nothing

Filed under: press, Religion — notsaussure @ 11:08 pm

People may have seen various stories in The Telegraph, The Express and so forth about how children are, apparently, to be forbidden by schools from wearing crosses while symbols of other faiths are to be permitted.

I was going to write something about this, but I thought something didn’t quite ring true, and I wanted to check before I made a complete fool of myself (I do try to check things now and again, not that it always stops me making a fool of myself, of course). In this case, I’m glad I did, because an excellent piece by Five Chinese Crackers confirmed my suspicions. Essentially, according to 5CC, someone’s got hold of a draft version of guidance (not instructions, but guidance) for schools on what to do about requiring pupils to remove items of jewellery and the like for things like PE lessons.

The overall line, as far as I can see, is that there are some items that are, for members of some faiths, that it’s compulsory to wear at all times, so obviously you don’t tell the children to remove those. There are some other items, like crucifixes, that you’re not required to wear but which you obviously wouldn’t want to ask someone to remove without good reason — small gold crucifixes are not infrequently presented by a relative to young teenage girls on the occasion of their First Communion or Confirmation, which is an important rite of passage if you believe in such things, or left to them as a keepsake by a grandmother in her will. Obviously you don’t have to wear one, any more than a woman has to wear her wedding ring at all times, but it’s the sort of thing that she’ll probably want to wear unless there’s a good reason why she shouldn’t. I understand that perfectly well about crucifixes — it’s what my late wife felt about the crucifix she was given when she made her First Communion; she didn’t think God was particularly bothered about whether she wore it or not, but wasn’t just an ordinary item of jewellery like one of her other necklaces that she’d wear or not as she felt like it — as I think will most people.

Well, what seems to have happened is that whoever wrote this draft paper understood it equally well, and made the mistake of thinking his or her readers would understand it, too. So the author made the mistake, in trying to explain that there are equivalent items in non-Christian religions about which people feel the same way, of taking it for granted that he or she wouldn’t have to explain all this about crosses.

Result: someone from the Express gets hold of the draft paper — which is now being rewritten, it seems, just to spell it out for the hard of thinking that, of course, this applies to Christian symbols, too — and deliberately gets it back to front.

Well worth reading, 5CCs article.



  1. Pretty standard for ‘political correctness gone mad’ stories. Do they ever turn out to have any substance?

    Comment by thesamovar — May 15, 2007 @ 2:36 am

  2. The thrust of your argument appears to be that ‘all is for the best in the best of all worlds’. Alas, as you probably know from your daily work, the world ain’t like that! The fundamentalists (from all faiths and including those with no faith), or those who wish to appear to be more fundamentalist than thou, will seize the opportunity to insist on their ‘rights’ concerning this or that trinket. It is the common liberal fallacy, I think, to assume that most people are reasonable. It seems to me that the solution for children engaging in sport is that any item likely to cause injury should either be covered up (as footballers do with their wedding rings) or removed and *no* exceptions for any reason.

    Comment by David Duff — May 15, 2007 @ 11:16 am

  3. Thanks for mentioning the post, but I really just pointed to what was in the local paper and pulled the ret together.

    David Duff: I’m not sure I follow you. Are you saying that the Council had actually banned crosses, or are you saying that no exceptions should ever be made for anything, ever? The second one is a different point, and not totally relevant to whether or not crosses had been banned and the papers involved were telling the truth.

    Comment by 5cc — May 15, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

  4. Sorry, indeed, I wasn’t clear. What I meant was that *if* there is a genuine and sensible health and safety (dread words!) aspect to the wearing of certain religious items during sports they should be removed or taped down or covered irrespective of their religious significance – without exception.

    An assumption that certain trinkets are not of particular religious significance is likely to be proved wrong very swiftly in these days of ‘rights’. Thus, any exceptions will, of course, be made much of and divide the religious (and the non-religious) even further.

    Comment by David Duff — May 15, 2007 @ 4:06 pm

  5. Most people, in my experience, are, in fact, pretty reasonable most of the time on most subjects, particularly if you do your best to treat them reasonably and proportionately and make it clear you expect them to behave in a similar manner.
    What’s particularly regrettable is that, in the instant case, the Education Department concerned were trying to give the schools the discretion and information to do pretty much that.

    I don’t know about you, but if I were trying to draft a policy on the wearing of jewellery for a school, I’d want to discourage it in general — I don’t want the pupils turning up covered in bling, or having to worry about someone losing her massively valuable bracelet, but I’d also realise that that there are some small items, usually of a religious significance, that people really don’t want to remove. In some cases, they won’t because they’re not allowed to and in others they will if they really have to but it’s best to have a pretty good reason — potential sporting injuries, as you say, or possibly safety in labs — otherwise people end up getting upset to no purpose.
    If I were drafting a policy for a school on wearing small items of jewellery to accommodate things like crucifixes, I’m pretty sure I could come up with one that wouldn’t upset people very much because I understand the sensitivities — including when someone’s taking the mickey by turning up with a massive pectoral cross — since that’s my cultural background. In trying to apply similar common sense (as I see it) to, say, items Hindus wear, then I’d need guidance. I know there were some symbolic items of religious significance my first wife, a somewhat lukewarm Brahmin, wouldn’t have removed under any circumstances and some she’d not have had a particular problem with removing but would rather not so have done. And if I were from an Hindu background I’m sure I could tell you what, in general, such items are and why, but I’m not, so I’d need to ask.
    Now, what this Education Authority seems to have done is taken much the same attitude as do I — basically leave it to the schools’ common sense, which has to be guided by a bit of background knowledge — but made the mistake of assuming that they didn’t have to spell out the background knowledge for Christian symbols as they thought they did for ones of other religions.
    I try to avoid situations in which people start talking about their ‘rights’ in the first place, since then life starts to get horribly complicated. Most of the time people don’t want their ‘rights’ so much as to be treated with a bit of sensitivity and tact.

    Comment by notsaussure — May 15, 2007 @ 4:30 pm

  6. Of course, you are right that most people most of the time are ‘reasonable’ but in the hotch-potch society in which we live today one has to cater for the unreasonable, thus my advice to all concerned (not me, I’m glad to say) is stick to a policy that is defensible on pragmatic grounds – and make no exceptions for anyone.

    (Incidentally, twice above I forgot to add my condolences for the loss of your mother. Mea culpa!)

    Comment by David Duff — May 15, 2007 @ 4:51 pm

  7. Your link to 5CC’s piece doesn’t seem to work…

    Comment by Larry Teabag — May 15, 2007 @ 6:23 pm

  8. Sorry … I think it’s fixed now.

    Comment by notsaussure — May 15, 2007 @ 6:41 pm

  9. Oh, and thank you for your condolences, Mr Duff. As someone said to me, no matter how old your parent is and no matter how much you think you’ve prepared yourself for the inevitable, it’s still an unexpectedly bitter rite of passage.

    Comment by notsaussure — May 15, 2007 @ 6:43 pm

  10. Yes, I was raised as an only child by my single-parent mother and when she died, I was in my mid-forties with my own family and responsibilities and she was a very elderly lady and yet, when the hospital rang in the wee small hours my first thought, the memory of which has stuck with me ever since, was, “Christ! I’m on my own now.” Anyway, the scab forms – eventually.

    Comment by David Duff — May 15, 2007 @ 8:32 pm

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