Thursday, July 16, 2015

Detained Over Beads?

When I talk about problems faced by minority religions in our society, this is the sort of thing I'm talking about. Abu-Bakr Abdur Rahman, an Arkansas practitioner of the Voodoo religion, was detained for several hours by Judge Talmage Baggett for refusing to conceal or remove his beaded necklaces, even though he explained that displaying them were part of his religious observance.

Now I do understand that there are issues related to maintaining proper decorum in court, and in the photo above Rahman appears to be wearing quite the collection of necklaces. Nonetheless, it seems to me that this is a legitimate, sincere religious belief, and needs to be respected.

"(Defendant) appeared in court late after docket call w/ a huge wooden necklace w/ beads around his neck," Baggett wrote. "I saw him come in & advised him that he would have to tuck the long necklace in his shirt, that he did not have to take it off, but simply tuck it inside his shirt. "He very reluctantly did so."

Rahman said that after Baggett first told him to cover his necklaces, he called his priest to ask if that is acceptable. "He said, 'No. You put your beads in, you disown your religion.'" Rahman said. "So I took my beads back out."

A little later, Baggett saw that the necklaces were out. He again told Rahman to take them off or put them under his shirt. Rahman recorded that conversation.

"Sir, get outside, and either put it in or leave. That is your choice. Or come to the prisoners box. Now which would you rather do?" Baggett said in the recording.

"You're discriminating against my religion," Rahman said.

"I don't know of any religion that requires you to wear this kind of stuff around your neck," Baggett said. "I'm not familiar with your religion. I respect anybody's religion, but get it off."

And that right there is the problem. Whether or not the judge was familiar with Rahman's religion should be completely irrelevant to the situation.

If familiarity is really the test of what's acceptable in court, then minority religions are going to be screwed over every time - because many people, judges included, have never heard of them and know nothing about their practices. For example, most of the time when I tell people I'm a Thelemite nobody says anything because nobody even knows what that is.

Rahman added that he has worn the same necklaces to court when appearing before other judges without any problems, so if that's true it seems to me that if this were a legitimate issue of safety or decorum it should have come up previously. Rather, it just seems to be a case of this particular judge taking a dislike to Rahman and ignoring his beliefs in a capricious manner.

If we want religion in the public square at all, by necessity we have to make sure that every person who expresses a religious belief - or the lack thereof - be treated with the same respect and be subject to the same rules. I could perhaps see the court making a rule banning all visible necklaces, but it would have to be applied equally to mainstream items such as crosses in addition to beads like these.

Because as soon as we allow this to be based on subjective criteria, the potential for discriminatory application becomes quite high.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: