Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Religion Run Amuck....Again

I was reading the New York Times a couple of weeks ago and I saw this story. It is about a mock trial team from an Orthodox Jewish school in Brookline, MA who won the state championship and went to the national tournament in Atlanta. OK, so good for them.

But there was a problem, at least from their point of view. The schedule for the national tournament has the finals scheduled for a Saturday and Orthodox students won't compete (or are forbidden to do so by their parents/elders) on the Sabbath. So they did what all religious people like to do - bitch, complain and claim "religious discrimination."

And threaten to file a lawsuit.

The parents of these kids actually filed a complaint with the Department of Justice. Great lesson they are teaching their kids - if you don't like the rules, sue to get them changed to something more to your liking.

Bullshit like this is when religion really burns my hide. The great thing about this country (and I don't start a sentence that way a lot when talking about our military-industrial complex controlled nation where I reside) is that it was founded on the secular principles of the Enlightenment. Hell, we were the first secular government in recorded history. That's something to be proud of as an American. You, I and everybody else have the right to believe whatever we want, it is right there in the First Amendment. Freedom of religion is a birthright, and that includes freedom from religion.

The kids from this school and their parents have every right to be as Orthodox as they want, and I would fully defend any attack on them or discrimination against them. But the rest of the world has no responsibility to accommodate your beliefs or weird rituals.

If you want to participate in the secular society we live in, then do. If you religion is more important than that, then don't. It is not religious discrimination to not change a schedule to your liking. If you don't like the rules as they are laid out, then don't participate. Go start your own mock trial group with other Orthodox schools and play in your own sandbox. The rest of us have an absolute right to not have your religion effect our lives. It is your choice, not ours. Nobody is forcing these kids to participate in mock trial.

In the end the mock trial group, under pressure from an Orthodox member of the Georgia Bar and the Fulton County judge, caved in and altered the schedule to accommodate the religious extremists. And it is possible that at least one other school was not able to compete in all the rounds due to the schedule change (they are listed as not having ranked due to a schedule deviation, but no searching has given me a definitive answer if it was because of this) so another school may have been penalized because of someone else's religious beliefs. That's religious discrimination.

Where does it end when you go down this slippery slope? Wouldn't almost any day be out of the picture once you start accommodating the extreme elements of any religion? Muslim kids will bitch about the Friday session, Jews (as we've already seen) about Saturdays and Christians about Sundays. So that takes care of three days right there. Then your more conservative Catholics will demand no Wednesdays so they can go to mass. I'm sure there are days of the week that Scientologists will have a problem with, like if the event falls on Tom Cruise's birthday or the anniversary L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics being published. You could probably pick out any day of the year on a calendar and some religious group will have something special about it, and the more extreme elements of those religions will have some sort of rule against doing anything that day.

We see this nonsense all the time here in New York. There are many public buildings in the city that turn their elevators to "all stop" after sundown on Friday through all of Saturday. This means that if you go to the hospital on a Saturday to visit a friend, say on the 14th floor, and accidentally get on this elevator, you will stop at EVERY! FUCKING! FLOOR! even if you are on it by yourself. Its like some ass-hole teenager got on and hit all the buttons. All because of a group of religious extremists and their odd interpretation of a passage in a several-thousand-years-old piece of fiction. So a public space alters the whole way it runs because one of these morons might show up that day.

I'm sick of the wackos of this world expecting the rest of us to acquiesce to their value system and then calling us bigots for refusing. I'm sure there are several Orthodox Jews who would read this and call me an anti-Semite. Well, fuck you.

It happens so many other places too. There are high schools all over the country where the vice-principal spends so much of his time busting kids for wearing caps in school, but if it is a yarmulke or a head scarf it is allowed. Like one reason for wearing something on your head is better than another.

Somebody tries to deny you a place to live, a job, the right to marry; or commit violence against you for what you believe, I'm the guy who will scream out about the injustice of that and demand that your rights be protected. I don't care if you are a believer in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Transcendental Meditation, snake-handling or Paganism; if you set your apartment up with sheng-fui, use crystals to tell your future, seek advice from a con, I mean psychic, think astrology is true, buy into the existence of auras or any other silly mythology. Anybody wants to discriminate against you in any real way for what you believe, you'll have me in your corner.

But the secular world not working around your schedule is not discrimination. So piss off if you don't like it.

I'm a vegetarian, something that, by the way, has a lot more concrete reasons to practice than any religion. When someone invites me to dinner I always let them know my restrictions. If they can't serve anything I'll be able to eat then I don't go. I don't accept the invitation and then show up demanding that the menu be changed to accommodate my needs or I'll sue.

Nobody is trying to take your religion away from you if we don't allow you to push it on us. It does not make the rest of us "religiously insensitive" (which is a charge that's been lobbed at the mock trial people) to not bend to your extremism.

You can't push buttons or ride in vehicles on Saturdays? Then there are going to be things you are going to miss in life because you decide to believe in such silly nonsense.

What you choose to believe is just that, a choice. It is also a choice to participate in the culture of your community. If those two things clash, you have another choice to make. Having both is sometimes not possible, so get over yourself.