The newspaper that lands in my front yard has ventured into an important topic that has, in some parts of the country, caused controversy. The issue at hand: whether public organizations should tweak some of their policies in order to cooperate with religious groups that stress modesty. In this case, journalists at The Baltimore Sun either (a) found no opposition to this change in policy, (b) found opposition and did not include these voices in the newspaper's story or (c) said, "What the heck, only bigots would oppose this change so there's no need to seek out those folks."
Meanwhile, the story briefly hints at another interesting angle that could have been included, which is that fact that Muslim women are not the only religious believers who place a doctrinal emphasis on modesty. More on that angle in a minute.
Logically enough, the story opens with the concerns of a Muslim woman, Shehlla Khan of Columbia, Md., who felt uncomfortable when she took her children to the local pool. She was sure that other swimmers were staring at her full-cover swimwear. Thus, readers learn:
So Khan, 39, brought the issue up with members of her Dar Al-Taqwa mosque in Ellicott City. The mosque, along with members of a faith-based county group, People Acting Together in Howard, met with the Columbia Association to create a twice-weekly, women-only swim time, a trial that is scheduled to be announced Tuesday.
The Columbia Association, which operates 23 pools in Howard, will join other communities that have made similar accommodations to create a more welcoming atmosphere for Muslims and other female swimmers.
New York City's recreation and parks department offers a women-only swim time at the Metropolitan Recreation Center. Pools around Toronto and other cities have also offered similar options. ... And at a swimming pool in Seattle, Muslim woman have used brown paper to cover glass windows, providing privacy from the lobby. Several private universities, including Harvard and George Washington, also have provided female-only swim times, with several hours a week set aside. But occasionally, such programs have run into opponents who suggest they unfairly cater to one group. At George Washington some complained, citing concerns over the program infringing on American liberties.
It's possible, of course, that opposition might emerge during the trial period. It so, it deserves fair coverage -- whether coming from the cultural right or the cultural left.
However, there is interesting content hidden in the membership list of that interfaith group, PATH. In addition to the usual liberal mainline Protestant bodies, this group also includes a Catholic parish and a number of conservative Protestant congregations. In other words, this is not an issue that may not fit into a simplistic left-right religious template.
In fact, the Sun team even notes that some non-Muslim women are interested in using these new female-only swim sessions, which may eventually be scheduled at other pools -- outdoor pools as well as indoor.
For Katlin Lampke, 18, it was not a matter of religion, but of personal comfort.
"During puberty, my body was changing. I was getting made fun of or hit on," she said. "It was very embarrassing." She stopped going.
"She was really uncomfortable," said her mother, Amy Lampke, 46. "We both love the water, but the experience changed. When this came up ..., I thought, 'What a great idea.'"
"Just for serenity, to have mother-daughter experience," she said, adding, "a pool isn't a bar. It isn't for singles."
So, other than the voices of those who may be opposed, what is missing from this rather ordinary story? I was left wondering two things. Were there any swimmers in those PATH organizations whose support for this change was rooted in faith-centered modesty? After all, that group includes Baptists, Catholics, a Church of God congregation, etc., etc. Also, I wondered (call me a cynic) whether Columbia leaders and the Sun editors would have been as positive about this policy if it had been requested, let's say, by a small pack of Catholic or Southern Baptist home-school moms.