My previous post is generating a surprising (to me) amount of controversy, and there were a number of comments that I thought deserved considered responses. But writing those responses in Blogger's tiny little comment window (Google people, are you listening?) was getting really annoying so I decided to escalate.
Do you consider their opinion to be more authoritative than any other obvious sources (say, a local christian bookshop or church committee or the bible), and if so, why?
This is a very good question, and I have three different answers for it:
First, the meanings of symbols have nothing to with authority. The meanings of symbols derive entirely from the intent of those who employ them, and from the perceptions of those who view them.
Second, it is fairly clear that the ring in this case is a Christian symbol. It is widely recognized as a Christian symbol, and it is inscribed with a reference to the New Testament, which should quell any remaining doubt.
But third, and most important, the ring is a red herring. If the girl had been wearing a crucifix on a chain the school's prohibition on jewelry would (presumably) still have applied. And surely no one would question that a crucifix is a Christian symbol.
So anyone should be allowed to take anything, call it a symbol of some religion
Yes, of course, as long as it is their religion. No one should be allowed to decide what is and is not a symbol of anyone else's religion.
(even though it isn't generally recognised as such)
Yes, of course. Some people have their own private religions with their own private theologies, symbols and rituals. Who are you to tell me that what I choose to be the symbols of my relgion are not valid?
it doesn't follow that you're allowed to say what you want, when you want, and where you want.
A straw man. No one disputes that freedom of speech has limits. You can't cry fire in a crowded theatre or commit libel. Clearly none of those circumstances apply in this case.
it doesn't entitle you to a free audience
It's a ring, for crying out loud. It's not like she's getting up in the middle of class with a bullhorn.
The real problem here is that the underlying prohibition on jewelry is inherently discriminatory against religions like Christianity which tend to render their symbology as jewelry rather than, say, clothing or makeup. Jews have yarmulkes. Sikhs have turbans. Hindus have Tilakas. But the principal symbol of Christianity is the Cross, and the principal means of displaying it on one's person (at least in the U.S.) is as a pendant hanging from a chain. So the issue is not the ring per se, the issue is that any blanket prohibition on jewelry necessarily discriminates against Christians, just as any blanket prohibition on wearing head-coverings indoors inherently discriminates against Muslims (and Jews and Sikhs).