Anna Fairclough: The lessons all schools need to learn from this judgment

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The Independent Online

Sarika Watkins-Singh, a 14- year-old Welsh-Punjabi Sikh, was forbidden from wearing her kara, a 5mm-wide plain steel bangle, to her state school. Because of her decision to continue wearing it, she was taught in complete segregation from other pupils for almost two months, banned from speaking to friends at school and even escorted to the toilet by a teacher, who waited outside.

Sarika won her case convincingly and hopefully schools will take note of the core messages in the judgment. The first of these is about individual freedom and the rights of minorities. You need a very good reason to interfere with the rights of individuals to express their identity and none was forthcoming in this case. Second, one size does not fit all. To achieve true equality, people in different situations sometimes have to be treated differently. Third, schools should seek to prevent racism by teaching students to value and respect difference, not by requiring minority groups to conform to the mainstream model.

This judgment does not mean all groups everywhere are always permitted to wear items representing their faith. But, hopefully, this will bring to a halt the perception that all religious items can lawfully be banned. Nor does this judgment only apply to Sikhs, who are recognised in law as a racial, as well as a religious group. Since the advent of the Equality Act 2006, all religions are protected in exactly the same way.

Anna Fairclough, Liberty's legal officer, represented the Singhs

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