Hear no evil September 14, 2011Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Religion.
Four (male) cadets have been dismissed from the Israeli Military’s officer training academy for walking out of a commemorative ceremony. Why did they walk out? Because the event included women singing solo, and the cadets’ religious beliefs forbid them from hearing such things. The matter has been appealed to the Supreme Court.
So, should the military allow religious soldiers to skip a ceremony if attending goes against their faith? Phrased that way, the answer must automatically be no: granting special privileges exclusively to religious people discriminates against the nonreligious. “Freedom of Religion” doesn’t mean that we must allow people to do anything their religion tells them to do; it means that everyone shall be treated equally, regardless of their religion (or lack thereof). The rule “all soldiers must attend official ceremonies, except for religious soldiers” is just as discriminatory as the rule “all soldiers may apply for officer training, except for religious soldiers.” If the military is entitled to require its personnel to attend certain ceremonies, then no one should get a pass merely because of their religious beliefs.
Of course, sometimes it is reasonable to allow exceptions to a rule due to special circumstances, such as medical reasons: an epileptic soldier could be exempted from participating in ceremonies that include flashing lights, for instance. But again, all such exceptions should apply to religious and nonreligious individuals equally: religious people’s preferences do not deserve special consideration merely because they are religious. If some soldier wants to claim that hearing women sing gives him an uncontrollable urge to commit rape, that’s one thing (though such a person needs professional help and shouldn’t be in the military to begin with); but merely saying “that’s what my religion tells me to do” is not a reason that deserves any special consideration.
Some may say: Why make a mountain out of a molehill? Can’t we show some flexibility for the sake of social cohesion and harmony? Can’t we respect other people’s beliefs, even if we disagree with them? But this conflict has far-reaching implications, and must be confronted head-on. The general problem is that religion (like all dogma) causes well-intentioned people to do morally repugnant things, while thinking they are doing good. The dismissed cadets are certain that they occupy the moral high-ground, since they are obeying God’s will; but the worldview that is actually promoted by their actions is one where women are considered impure vehicles of temptation and sin, to be controlled by men (who apparently cannot control themselves). Needless to say, this view is baseless and dysfunctional, and must be unequivocally opposed. The cadets need to understand that refusing to hear a woman sing just because she is a woman indicates a moral failing, comparable to shunning blacks or gays. The fact that such bigotry is supported by religious beliefs doesn’t make it any more respectable — it merely discredits those beliefs.
If you don’t get this, I don’t want you leading an army.