Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Religious Freedom, Discrimination and Airplanes

I am not religious though I have respect for people's religious beliefs. I avoid needlessly poking fun at them. There are limits to this respect but in general I don't see the point in deliberately pointing out fallacies and flaws in someone's faith unless they try to push it onto me. Lately religious freedom has come to be used primarily by people on the political right to avoid otherwise generally applicable laws. There's no reason that religious freedom should be a partisan issue. There are just as many historical and current controversies where people on the political left have cited religious freedom to avoid participating in things the right supports (saluting the flag, pledging allegiance, being drafted, etc..). So it should go both ways. I see religious objections as just a smaller and fiercer subset of conscience objections. And I often admire people who are truly motivated by individual conscience. There is one small caveat though. I may respect people who are standing up to the state or business or other members of society who are trying to make them do something. I don't have any use for people claiming religious freedom who are trying to burden OTHER people. I have the religious freedom to abstain from eating pork or shellfish. It's not religious freedom however for me to try to make you live by my dietary restrictions. It's a small but crucial distinction. Recently some male members of the growing and politically active ultra-Orthodox Jewish community have made some news by refusing to sit next to unrelated women while using transportation. Presumably this problem would also extend to unrelated men sitting next to traveling ultra-Orthodox Jewish women. 

Francesca Hogi, 40, had settled into her aisle seat for the flight from New York to London when the man assigned to the adjoining window seat arrived and refused to sit down. He said his religion prevented him from sitting beside a woman who was not his wife. Irritated but eager to get underway, she eventually agreed to move. Laura Heywood, 42, had a similar experience while traveling from San Diego to London via New York. She was in a middle seat — her husband had the aisle — when the man with the window seat in the same row asked if the couple would switch positions. Ms. Heywood, offended by the notion that her sex made her an unacceptable seatmate, refused. “I wasn’t rude, but I found the reason to be sexist, so I was direct,” she said.  

A growing number of airline passengers, particularly on trips between the United States and Israel, are now sharing stories of conflicts between ultra-Orthodox Jewish men trying to follow their faith and women just hoping to sit down.
Representatives of the ultra-Orthodox insist that the behavior is anomalous and rare. “I think that the phenomenon is nowhere near as prevalent as some media reports have made it seem,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, which represents ultra-Orthodox Jews. “The haredi men I know,” Rabbi Shafran said, using the Hebrew word for the ultra-Orthodox, “have no objection to sitting next to a woman on any flight.”

The ultra-Orthodox have increasingly seen gender separation as a kind of litmus test of Orthodoxy — it wasn’t always that way, but it has become that way,” said Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College. “There is an ongoing culture war between these people and the rest of the modern world, and because the modern world has increasingly sought to become gender neutral, that has added to the desire to say, ‘We’re not like that.’”

I don't really care how you behave in the privacy of your own home. And as mentioned I modestly sympathize with some people who feel that they are being bullied by an ever expanding government determined to enforce, pardon the pun, orthodoxy, around questions of gender, child raising practices, sexuality and what have you. But that sympathy stops here. If you are older than say five years old and still believe that women have cooties, if you think that you will be tempted, seduced or made impure by every single non-related women you run across in life, if you think that you have the right to demand that society adapt to you rather than the other way around, maybe this country isn't really the right place for you. You're a dummy. There is no other way to put it. Being descended from people who did indeed have to give up seats, switch seats or otherwise adjust their lives to the fears and anger of bigots, I have absolutely no truck with any man or woman, regardless of their religion, who seeks to impose any sort of segregation in public accommodations. If you want to do that in your synagogue, mosque or church, knock yourself out. But don't try it in the public square. And certainly don't try it around me. Because you're opening up yourself and your religion up for public mockery. Nobody should ever switch seats because someone refuses to sit next to them due to gender. Nobody. And if some idiot is preventing the departure of a bus or plane because of this, throw them off the vehicle, and do not refund their money. If this happens often enough, word will get around. I believe that similar to how the Mormons had a revelation that black men could actually be priests, the Orthodox Jews pitching a fit over the possibility of sitting next to an unrelated woman, will suddenly discover a new interpretation allowing them to do just that. Ridiculous.

What do you think?

If you are a woman would you move?

If you are a man would you switch seats with a woman to remedy this situation?

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