Religious freedom and the TSA

"If it means me getting naked, I'll get naked and get right on that plane."

Obviously, as evidenced by that remark by one airline passenger interviewed by The Associated Press, Americans express varying levels of discomfort -- or not -- with security measures taken by the Transportation Security Administration.

Mollie has written at least a couple of GetReligion posts (here and here) related to the TSA and religious modesty. She even shared a bit about her personal experience at a security checkpoint:

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 must acknowledge that I probably lean more in the direction of the AP interviewee. I am a nervous flier anyway, and since 9/11, I have taken a small measure of comfort in heightened scrutiny at the airport. I want the TSA screener to shine a light on my driver's license (or passport if I'm traveling internationally) and look me up and down a few times. I don't want just a quick glance and a nod to move ahead from a sleepy-eyed agent.

When I flew earlier this month, I breezed right through the line and to my gate with no patdown whatsoever. I voiced my disappointment on Facebook. I was joking, of course.

Yet I realize that for many Americans, this is no laughing matter, and that was reflected in a holiday travel story by The Washington Post:

As Erum Ikramullah prepared to head to Reagan National Airport on Thursday for a flight, she mulled over two distasteful choices: the body scanner or the pat-down?

Ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a trip to the airport has been fraught for Muslims, who sometimes feel they are being profiled as potential terrorists because of their religion. The addition of full-body scanners, which many say violate Islam's requirements of modesty, has increased the discomfort.

Muslims aren't alone in their antipathy toward the new security measures. Followers of other religions, including Sikhs and some Orthodox Jews and evangelical Christians, also say the scanners and pat-downs make them uncomfortable or breach the tenets of their faiths.

I thought the Post did a nice job up high of explaining -- from the perspective of an actual person of faith -- why the measures concern some Americans:

But Muslim women have been particularly reluctant to subject themselves to the scanners, which reveal the contours of the human body in glaring detail.

In Islam, "a woman's body and a man's body are both pretty much private," said Ikramullah, 29, who wears a head scarf. "I choose to cover myself and dress in loose-fitting clothing so the shape of my body is not revealed to everyone in the street."

The other choice, an "enhanced" pat-down in which security agents touch intimate body parts, was hardly more appealing, said the College Park resident. In recent years, Ikramullah said, she has been pulled aside for a milder version of the pat-downs almost every time she flies. The reason, she believes, is her head scarf.

"It can be humiliating when you're standing there and people are walking by, seeing you get the pat-down," she said. "You just feel like you have a target on your head."

Keep reading, and the piece highlights perspectives of Sikhs, Orthodox Jews and evangelical Christians. Sources from each group give specific reasons for objections and concerns. (In a separate item by Christianity Today, observers discuss whether Christians should resist airport body scans and patdowns.)

I liked the Post report and the way that it allowed individual believers and faith leaders to explain their beliefs in their own words. I do wonder how the newspaper came up with the list of faith groups to include. Were any left out?

I'm flying again next week. Depending on that experience, I reserve the right to change my opinion on this topic.

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