Friday, September 17, 2010

Mindless Conformity Can Be a Religion, too.


A 14-year-old girl has been suspended twice from school in North Carolina for her nose piercing, which she claims violates her First Amendment right to exercise her religion. Ariana Iacono and her mother, Nikki, belong to the Church of Body Modification, a small group with a clergy, a statement of beliefs and a formal process for accepting new members. The school states that she is in violation of its dress code.

The American Civil Liberties Union believes that she has the right to wear her nose ring and has contacted school officials with concerns about her religious rights. The school's policy does allow exemptions to the dress code on religious grounds. Ariana's mother asserts that school officials are judging what constitutes a "real" religion. "We pretty much flat-out asked them, what guidelines are you following? What do you need to establish a sincere religious belief?," she said. "We were told that if we were Hindu, or she were Muslim, it would be different."

Richard Ivey, the Iaconos' minister, says,"They're basically saying, because they don't agree and because they choose not to respect our beliefs, that it can't be a sincerely held religious belief." He describes the church as a non-theistic faith that draws people who see tattoos, piercings and other physical alterations as ways of experiencing the divine. "We don't worship the god of body modification or anything like that," he said. "Our spirituality comes from what we choose to do ourselves. Through body modification, we can change how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about the world." The two-year old church claims 3,500 members nationwide.

Sally Gordon, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who focuses on Constitutional law and religious issues, says schools have the right to issue rules on dress as long as there's a good reason and no specific religion is targeted. "One of the remarkable things about religious freedom is that people have all kinds of beliefs that look to others as bizarre but make internal sense to them," Gordon said. "We really can only claim to be a country that respects religious liberty if we respect the variety of beliefs that exist in the country — both new and old."

The ACLU, like the Iaconos and their minister, hope the issue can be resolved without going to court. Meanwhile, Nikki and Ariana pick up schoolwork for her to do at home while her peers sit in class. "I hope they're going to stop suspending me and clear some of these absences from my record," Ariana said. "I want to get into a good college."

You would think that with all the really important issues going on in the world, a teenager's jewelry would be small cause for concern. The fact that it is goes beyond petty control issues and sounds the death knell for individuality in our society. And that to me is the real tragedy.

23 comments:

TechnoBabe said...

We either have religious freedom in this country or we don't. As far as I know, we do. Whether the subject is a mosque to build or a student wearing a nose ring, a religious belief is their right. We don't have to agree with what they believe we just have to honor their rights. I always like to learn of interesting items like this in your blog. I don't take time to read online news much anymore.

mischief said...

This kind of micromanagement makes me tired just thinking about it. While I can see fighting tooth and nail for something that *matters* I just cannot wrap my mind around how people let themselves become embroiled in this kind of battle. What a useless waste of energy. If school is meant to prepare these teens for the workforce, shielding them from and forbidding them to participate in things like piercing and tattoos is not doing the job. The modern workforce is filled with professionals who participate in body modification in one form or another. Fascinating story... as always.

secret agent woman said...

Oh, hmmm. I don't know. The Church of Body Mortification? How is that not just a group of non-religious people who want tattoos and piercings? What if a student belonged to the Church of Toplessness or the Church of Penis Exposure? Would they be allowed to violate the dress code?

Jo said...

Gosh, here is a Canadian Supreme Court ruling: "Freedom of religion trumped security concerns yesterday as the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that barring Montrealer Gurbaj Singh Multani from wearing his dagger-like kirpan to school violates the nation's Charter of Rights and cannot be considered a reasonable restriction on his right to freedom of religion." In case anyone doesn't know what a kirpan is, it is a dagger. I would think a nose piercing is a lot safer than a dagger.

I hope Ariana Iaconi and her mother fight that ruling. A dress code cannot be enforced if the clothing doesn't put the wearer or anyone else in danger (i.e., open toed shoes on a construction site, etc...)

the walking man said...

Constitutionally we are a non sectarian state and no arm of government be it the department of defense or a locally funded school has any legal ability to say what is a religion or what isn't.

People have forgotten long ago that this is not a Christian country. Simply because a majority of the population claims to belong to the cult of Jesus has nothing to do with the responsibility of government to NOT intervene in anyone's religious beliefs no matter what they are.

This, as mischief said, micromanagement of life is becoming tedious and does nothing but divide further an already well divided nation.

meno said...

All this over a fairly common body modification. Wasted energy in my opinion. If they belonged to The Church of Chainsaws Running there might be an issue.

English Rider said...

Why should she be an exception to a dress code that is for everyone else? Admittedly my school years are in the dark ages of the past but we were told no jewelry at all, so that it never caught on anything. (Navy blue, uniform knickers too, but that's a whole other story)

TaraDharma said...

I would have thought we were past the days where school banned jewelry....but I guess a necklace is okay but a nose piercing aint? It's a new age and these school administrators need to pull their heads outta their asses.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Babe,

I generally take the position that what someone calls his religion is not my business.

Lisa,

It's true that body piercing and tattoos are everywhere, and it's pointless to turn one girl's nose ring into Armageddon. What they are teaching in that school is petty intolerance, not what we should want our children to learn.

Agent,

Sorry, although you made me laugh, I think penile exposure is a far cry from a nose ring. But I get your point -- where do we draw the line? Maybe a good place to start would be at the body parts which are normally covered in our society like breasts and penises, while noses are not.

Jo,

I didn't know what a kirpan was either. I think the school authorities should leave Ariana alone as long as she doesn't bring weapons to class.

Mark,

I grow weary of hearing constantly that this is a Christian country because it was founded on the principle of separation of church and state, although it seems that division erodes daily.

If this child says that her nose ring is religious jewelry, to me that equates it with crosses and stars of David which are worn by many other people with impunity.

Meno,

The Church of Chainsaws Running is down the street from there -- they call it The Dentist.

Rider,

With all respect, since this school does NOT outlaw jewelry, I think your argument is moot. It would also be difficult for a nose jewel to catch on anything, it seems. (Not having one, I'm only guessing.)

Tara,

Yep, your eloquence pretty much sums it up.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

And I thought we were so far from burning witches at the stake.

This is absolutely stupid.

Make mountains of out of mole hills and persecute those who are different and don't fit into guidelines and norms.

I think the church is pretty far out in left field, but if they want it then good for them, as long as no one gets hurt.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Ian Lidster said...

Church of Body Modification! Come on, for real? Oh well, there are the snake handlers, so why not? Anyway, as far as I'm concerned she should have the freedom to pierce every square inch of her body as long as any future employer has the freedom to not hire her. Personally, I don't much care for nose piercing, but chacun a son gout.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

A "good" reason to burn witches can always be found. I think your qualifier, "as long as no one gets hurt," is all that should be relevant.

Ian,

Yes, snake handlers, piercing, tattoos, apparently there are many ways to God. A nose ring is much less gory than the Lakota Sun Dance, which was (is) a solemn religious ceremony.

comfortandjoy said...

This makes me cranky. Heart, will you tell a San Francisco story? You know, like naked bike riders or crazy neighbors who may or may not be hiding dead bodies in their apartments or something?

I need a dose of the left coast.

CJ

heartinsanfrancisco said...

CJ,

Sorry I've made you cranky. I make me cranky, too, all the time. But where are you, if not on the left coast?

The BOOK SALE begins tomorrow! Any chance I'll see you there?

comfortandjoy said...

Heart,

Sorry, I was imprecise. You don't make me cranky, southern family values do.

I am on the left coast, but there's nothing like the left coast as told by Heartinsanfrancisco.

I did know the booksale was starting. It goes through the weekend, right? I might stop by.

CJ

PeterAtLarge said...

A shame to bring religion into this--particularly a religion that does seem, well, a bit nutty. Isn't it really about silly rules?

Warty Mammal said...

Embracing body modification as a religious practice seems bizarre to me, but on the other hand, so do all religions and most religious practices.

I don't know what the answer is, if there is one, but I've found the comments here interesting.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Cj,

The book sale is kind of our anniversary, you know, since we first met there.

Peter,

It seems there is always some kind of "justification" for bringing religion into everything. Usually, it should be left out.

Warts,

I tend to believe that people should be free to practice any religion they want as long as they don't hurt anyone. (Of course, religion in general has probably hurt more people in the history of the world than any other cause.)

But as Peter states, it really is silly to have rules about such trivialities as nose rings.

nick said...

I can't see how nose-piercing can cause any problem with schooling, or why the school is making such a fuss about it.

However I don't see how she can defend nose-piercing on religious grounds, unless her "church" has some clear guidelines for spiritual enlightenment. It doesn't matter that her beliefs are non-theistic because the same applies to Buddhism. It seems to me we're talking philosophy or lifestyle rather than religion but then I don't know the whole story.

Maria said...

Jeez Louise, as we say here on the prairie.

I mean, holy cow, boy howdy and for the love of Mike...

this is fucking ridiculous.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Nick,

I would agree that absent a deity, a belief system qualifies as a philosophy and not a religion. (It's a bit difficult to philosophize about mutilation of the flesh, though, which has more of a historic basis in religion.)

Maria,

You forgot "holy shit." Yes, it seems ridiculous on several levels.

secret agent woman said...

For the record, I think students ought to be allowed to have piercings. I just think it's silly to cloak them in a made-up religion designed simply to let people have piercings.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Agent,

All religions are made up -- some have just been around longer than others. The Native American sun dance in which people dragged animal skulls around by piercings in their chests was also a form of worship. (Of course, I thought I was being mutilated when I had my ears pierced.)

It's fascinating how religions and para-religions differ, though. Judaism forbids tattoos, for example. I don't know where it stands on piercing, but would guess that is also not allowed true practitioners.

I do think a religion requires a deity and that the lack of one makes a belief system a philosophy, but I'm hardly an authority.