TSA vs. religious modesty

I flew to Denver and Las Vegas last week. And I had the girls with me on two legs of the trip. Going through security on one of those legs, I was told that I had to remove the baby from her Ergo baby carrier. They later clarified that I could have walked through security while holding her in her carrier but I would have been subjected to one of those pat downs we've been hearing so much about.

On an earlier flight, that's exactly what happened. I joked that in some cultures I would be married to my screener by now. But it wasn't funny. It was incredibly intimate and it actually made me uncomfortable. I felt intimidated by the fact that the screeners have so much authority over your freedom to move about the country. I even thought about how I should respond as a Christian. (I will admit to liking a friend's suggestion that people moan and make embarrassing noises while receiving their pat down.) That made me wonder why there haven't been any news stories about whether these new screens violate any religious values. After all, the new policies basically say that if you're uncomfortable with the government taking naked images of you, you will be caressed or groped by strangers.

In related news, three national Sikh advocacy and civil rights groups are questioning a Transportation Security Administration policy of always searching turbans at airports, even after use of those naked-body imaging scanners some people walk through. On a related note, I saw three pilots refuse to walk through these radiation machines, explaining that they couldn't possibly walk through them every day without having adverse health effects.

OK, on to the actual news story, which ran in The New York Times:

Officials from the Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund went public on Friday about their meeting several weeks ago with representatives of the Department of Homeland Security and the T.S.A.

"All of us jointly feel there are definitely some elements of racial profiling here," said Jasjit Singh, associate director of the legal defense fund, a civil rights group in Washington.

Hansdeep Singh, a senior staff lawyer for United Sikhs, based in New York, said the meeting in Washington was arranged to hear about how new "advanced imaging technology" scanners would affect Sikhs, who had hoped the devices would eliminate the need for extra screening that they say they are subjected to at airports.

"We went in there with high hopes," Mr. Singh said.

But the Sikhs said they were told that the turbans will be treated "as a per se anomaly," Mr. Singh said. That will give security officers the discretion they already have -- to conduct additional screening of the turbans, which they usually do already, according to the Sikhs.

The story focuses mostly on the technical details, such as whether these scanners can see through the many layers of the turban, or the racial profiling. The story quotes one of the activists noting that Sikh Americans are responsible for precisely no incidents of terrorism in this country. (Incidentally -- here's a nice Associated Press story about the first Sikh to enlist in the Army in 30 years. And here's a Washington Post "On Faith" essay about Sikhs being confused with Muslims.)

But check out how the story ends:

Sikhs and T.S.A. officials previously worked out a protocol for removing turbans in private.

"In our faith, it's the equivalent to being forced to be naked, effectively," Mr. Singh said.

I really would have appreciated this quote being higher up, considering how mandated removal of the turban is the whole point of the story, and explained in much more detail.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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