Guest post: Religion was nearly mandatory

Originally a comment by iknklast on Nouvelle intrusion en maillot couvrant à Grenoble.

I remember when I was in school, and we were required to wear dresses. Those dresses were to have hems no more than 6 inches from the floor. We were in Maine and could not wear pants in the winter, though we could wear longer dresses.

I was not allowed to wear pants to school until 7th grade, and our school didn’t allow girls to wear anything but matching pantsuits until I was a sophomore in high school.

Needless to say, I come down on the side of maximum freedom to choose what you wear. I don’t have to approve of it; that isn’t my place. But I find the burkini, and the burqa in general, to be problematic. I suspect no women would choose to wear that if they weren’t compelled in some way, whether by their society or by their belief in a God who says “women shall not show their hair”.

On a separate but related topic:

I have read a lot about the issue of bans on religious clothing in schools, which most people say is anti-Muslim in intent (I suspect it is). I personally don’t think a ban on religious clothing is a bad thing, as long as you make it all religious clothing (and anti-religious clothing should be included, too. My atheist t-shirts would not be allowed, either). The reason has a lot to do with where I grew up. Religion was nearly mandatory, except they gave lip service to recognizing that the Constitution didn’t allow that, so you would be allowed to believe what you wanted, as long as what you wanted fit with the dominant belief – Southern Baptist. We had devotionals in school over the loudspeaker for many years after that was declared illegal, and mandatory prayer in the classroom. From what I have heard, they are still herding the children into assembly for prayers; I heard this from someone delighted with the practice (my father) and participating in it. When FFRF contacted them, they denied it, but of course they would, wouldn’t they?

So, back to clothes. The moment you put on a cross, a yarmulke, a pentagram, a burka, or a t-shirt saying every knee shall bow (or saying this is what an atheist looks like), you have labeled yourself. You are going to be subjected to the policing of the other children if what you are wearing is the “wrong” religion. I see this happening, I know it is happening, and I feel powerless about it because children are allowed to wear whatever religious items they wish (though in the school I grew up in, wearing the “wrong” religious items would get you sent home, and probably still does). Children can be extremely cruel to those who are the “wrong” religion. I know. I didn’t grow up Southern Baptist, and I experienced all sorts of hatred and contempt from my fellow children, even though my parents believed nearly every tenet of Christianity in nearly the exact same way. My parents were fundamentalists, and they enforced it strictly, but we happened to be Disciples of Christ, so…wrong. What if I had been a Jew? I didn’t think much about it growing up, because I didn’t think there were any Jews in our school. That’s because the Jews didn’t dare to be openly Jewish – I know that now, and have talked to some of the Jews in our school. One girl was Wicca, and was driven out of town.

My students frequently wear religious jewelry and t-shirts to class. Huge crosses or aggressively threatening t-shirts telling people who don’t agree with them that they will bow or burn. These make me feel uncomfortable, especially as a science teacher not knowing what I will face when I get to, say, evolution or the age of the Earth. I often suspect students of wearing some of it for that very purpose, hoping to let the teacher know they will not put up with godless materialism, and that they are prepared to be ugly (maybe even violent. That hasn’t happened so far, thankfully, but ugly confrontations have).

In short, I am very torn about the concept of religious clothing. I would like to see it not worn in schools, because of the nature of cruelty and children. But at the same time, I know that without burkas, some girls would not be allowed in school. It’s a difficult, double-edged sword. School uniforms was one answer to those problems, but people insisted on having religious exemptions to uniform rules, and these were granted, so it made no difference. Parents still insist on their children having markers of faith, and children still insist on policing piety.

Religion really does spoil things, doesn’t it?

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