Pharyngula

First they came for the pirates…

OK, simple story: kid goes to school dressed as a pirate, eyepatch, inflatable sword, and talking about the flying spaghetti monster; kid is asked to remove the eyepatch several times; kid refuses; kid gets kicked out of school for a day. You may be disappointed to learn that I don’t see a problem. I think it’s fair for schools to enforce some minimal level of decorum, by all accounts he was asked politely to remove the eyepatch, and even the kids’ mother thinks he got a little carried away. A mild punishment like suspension to enforce the reasonable authority of the school administration is a fine idea.

Except for one thing. (There’s always just one more thing.)

“It has nothing to do with religious beliefs,” school district spokesman Stan Alleyne rushed to say when asked about the suspension. “We respect students’ religious beliefs.”

What? Why? This is exactly what I’ve been talking about, the unwarranted deference given to wacky beliefs as long as they’re called “religious”. There is no reason religious beliefs should be privileged with a special status, no reason an administrator should “rush” to pander to irrationality as long as it is in service to a deity.

And here’s another irritation: I’m sure Mr Alleyne thinks he is being reasonable and reassuring when he punishes a young student for wearing a goofy eyepatch, but promises that he won’t administer a similar punishment to someone wearing a goofy crucifix, or a goofy skullcap, or a goofy chador … but he isn’t reassuring me. He is confirming my expectation that religious nonsense will be given an exalted status in his school.

If the school lets kids wear special religious garments or jewelry, or doesn’t tell them to wash their face when they daub themselves with grime on Ash Wednesday, or any of the other pointless rituals of faith, then they shouldn’t be punishing a kid for wearing an eyepatch — the pirate silliness is no more absurd than the crap the other kids are doing. Let one slide, you should let the other abide; enforce the rules against one, the other should also be forbidden. The problem here is inconsistency.

Comments

  1. #1 Fernando Magyar
    March 30, 2007

    Darn, missed opportunity to dress my kid up as a pirate and send him to school. He had a legitimate medical reason to wear an eyepatch for a while, I guess they probably could have objected to the plastic sword and stuffed parrot though, might have been construed as unduly distractin. Arr!

    Seriously though, what parent allows their kid to go to school dressed like that on a regular school day? Somethings a little off there. Respect for the FSM notwithstanding.

  2. #2 Aaron Baker
    March 30, 2007

    Well, my crotchety friend, we do privilege religious expression in America–not least because the Republic was founded when memories of religiously motivated persecution were still fresh. (Some of the connections aren’t immediately obvious: the Fifth Amendment privilege, for example, was in part a reaction to 17th c. English proceedings in which defendants were compelled to admit their religious allegiance.)

    But more than an accident of history justifies such a privilege. I would say that the danger of restrictions on expression intentionally directed at religion (and non-religion) is by no means a thing of the past; and that such restrictions are more pernicious than other restrictions (on style of dress, for example), because, like it or not, one’s religion (or lack thereof) matters more to most people than whether one can wear a particular costume. You might be more irked (I know I would be) at a school policy banning t-shirts with atheistic slogans on them (even if religious slogans were banned, too) than at a school policy banning t-shirts of any description.

  3. #3 Joe Shelby
    March 30, 2007

    Well, the worst thing about stuff like FSM and certain neo-pagan nature-worshiping types, is that by discriminating against some and not others, it puts the government in charge of actually determining what is and isn’t a “religion”, which in itself is something the government simply shouldn’t be doing.

    This is particularly a crazy when it’s not a “traditional” religion but one where the history is actually quite modern. If you can say that FSM is not a religion because we know who made it up and why, what does that say about Scientology? (yeah, a question that can be answered both ways, work with me here. 🙂 )

  4. #4 Mike Fox
    March 30, 2007

    The eye-patch could cause the student to not see an obstical, like a door frame, correctly. The student could run into said frame. Schools are responsible for thier student’s weel-being. Thus, they will be sued. I very much doubt it was an educator who distributed this ruling, but an administrator.

    The fact is that the administrator was also probobly trying to assess if the student was right in the head that day. Often times, unpredictable or extreme behavior indicates something more going on with the student (ie. home problems, medication problems, etc.).

    PZ, on this sort of thing it might help to think of this in terms of a parent that can be sued by his kids rather than as a college professor with retrospective on public education. Thank you for sharing this delightful story.

    -Mike Fox

  5. #5 Azkyroth
    March 30, 2007

    Having never met a school administrator who reserved their authority for use in reasonable ways, and finding seeing suspension as “mild,” especially as a punishment for a purely decorative item, rather strange, I’m a bit skeptical of your analysis.

  6. #6 dustbubble
    March 30, 2007

    “..because we know who made it up and why,..”
    uh oh chongo, that’s mormon, baha’i, and 57 varieties of protestantism in the bag too.
    Xtianity isn’t that much of a trad religion round our way either, come to that. If the Sally Army bother us in the pub, waggling our beards and roaring “Sacrifice them to Odin!” usually does the trick..

  7. #7 weemaryanne
    March 30, 2007

    How does the school establish its reasonable authority by kicking the kid out of school? If his mother wasn’t willing to tell him to smarten up, how do the teachers expect to have any sway over him?

    If I were his teacher, my only question would be: “Do pirates do their homework? — hand it over, Jack.” Then I’d grade it as usual and proceed with the day’s work.

  8. #8 COD
    March 30, 2007

    I’m surprised the kid wasn’t zero toleranced out for the year due to the inflatable sword.

  9. #9 Kseniya
    March 30, 2007

    I think the school administrator was just trying to send the message, “The buccaneer stops here.”

    “..because we know who made it up and why,..”

    uh oh chongo, that’s mormon, baha’i, and 57 varieties of protestantism in the bag too.
    Xtianity isn’t that much of a trad religion round our way either, come to that.

    Correct. “We know who made it up and why” clearly applies to Christianity (all flavors) and Islam (all flavors), too – therefore they aren’t “real” religions. (?)

  10. #10 dorid
    March 30, 2007

    I’d like to know why the kid came to school in the pirate outfit in the first place. Were they teaching creationism in the classroom? Sometimes there is very little individual parents can do to combat stupidity at a school, and making a public spectacle or statement works a heck of a lot quicker than a lawsuit.

    I mentioned “law suit” in my son’s school once, and the principle responded “stand in line. It may come to court in oh… 9 years or so. Too bad your kid will have long ago either graduated or dropped out.”

    Yup… I can completely understand this.

  11. #11 Cogito
    March 30, 2007

    There is no reason religious beliefs should be privileged with a special status, no reason an administrator should “rush” to pander to irrationality as long as it is in service to a deity.

    As Aaron says, there is a BIG reason, i.e., constitutional law. Toss a kid from school for religious expression, and you will have the bizarre experience of having the ACLU and ACLJ united against you, and unless the kid was slitting a chicken’s throat in class or something equally disruptive, you will have your ass handed to you.

    Personally, I’m all for protecting religious expression in this way. Like it or not, it is a very touchy issue, and will engender a lot of suppression by the group in power without clear restrictions on government action. And as a member of a vehemently hated “religious” minority, I’m damn glad my views get special protection.

    Now . . . I do wonder about the free speech issue here – is an eye patch really disruptive? I can see a giant hat with a feather, or a stuffed parrot on the shoulder, or a sword being a legitimate problem – but why did they latch on to the eyepatch?

  12. #12 Sean Carroll
    March 30, 2007

    See, if he had gone to school dressed as a ninja, it would have been fine; nobody would have been able to see him.

  13. #13 Blake Stacey
    March 30, 2007

    An Order of the Molly to Sean Carroll!

    🙂

  14. #14 Mike Haubrich
    March 30, 2007

    Well, PZ is right, again. We do give people too much sway in behavioral activities if they claim religious protection, whereas otherwise they would be subject to penalties. For example, Twin Cities Muslim cabbies claim that if they give rides to passengers who are carrying alcohol, then they are violating Islam by “participating in sin.” (How do strict religionists even function is my question.) They won’t carry dogs, except for trained handicap-assist animals because the saliva is unclean.

    Now, the MAC (Metropolitan Airports Commisssion) has finally decided that cabbies who refuse rides even for religious reasons will face suspension and fines; until now they merely were sent to the back of the passenger pickup queue.

    Religious freedom is like speech. Rights are not absolute. Your right to religion, like expression, ends where your fist meets my nose.

    What if the kid and parents claimed that they were “Sparrowists?” Would they have been able to fight the suspension?

    “Bring me that horizon!”

  15. #15 quork
    March 30, 2007

    Ths school administrators are making it up as they go along. I say this because they point to the eye patch as a likely distraction. And yet, as already pointed out by a commentor, there are legitimate cases of people needing to wear eye patches. The inflatable sword, while not a danger as an actual weapon, most likely would be a distraction.

  16. #16 G. Shelley
    March 30, 2007

    What if he was wearing an eye patch for a genuine religious reason?

  17. #17 PZ Myers
    March 30, 2007

    But maybe that’s the real problem: if the administrator thought there were invisible ninjas lurking in the shadows, and if she then spotted a pirate, she may have been trying to forestall a bloodbath. The poor ninja students wouldn’t have stood a chance, so she was trying to protect them.

  18. #18 Michael Kremer
    March 30, 2007

    Pastafarianism isn’t a religion. This isn’t just because “we know who made it up any why”. The particular “why” is important: pastafarianism was made up as a parody of a religion. It is basically a joke, and intentionally so. Even the name, with it’s obvious punning on “rastafarianism,” gives it away.

    Unless you seriously believe that the kid who came to school dressed as a pirate actually believes in the FSM, you should admit that the principal is exactly right to say that the kid wasn’t being disciplined for his religious beliefs — because the kid doesn’t have any religious beliefs (at least none that he was expressing by dressing up as he did). Rather, the kid was making an anti-religious joke. His behavior was not that much different from someone showing up at the school parodying the stereotypical behavior of ultra-orthodox Jews, say.

    I myself am not at all sure that from this it follows that the kid should have been disciplined in any way. I am certainly not defending this point of view here. But I do think it is pretty easy to defend the claim that pastafarianism is not a religion. Until there are pastafarian assembly halls where people actually attend regularly, donate a large portion of their income to support the activities of the religion, support various charitable activities, participate in initiation ceremonies, care deeply about the FSM, etc, etc, it is simply silly to claim that pastafarianism is a religion.

  19. #19 Sammy
    March 30, 2007

    The eye-patch could cause the student to not see an obstical, like a door frame, correctly. The student could run into said frame. Schools are responsible for thier student’s weel-being. Thus, they will be sued. I very much doubt it was an educator who distributed this ruling, but an administrator.

    Mike, if you reread the story, I think you’ll find that the cited reason for asking him to removing the eyepatch was that it was “disruptive to classroom instruction,” not that he was in danger of walking into things. And if walking into things was of serious concern, what do they do when someone actually injures or loses an eye?

  20. #20 Caledonian
    March 30, 2007

    Taking up the authority to decide what is and isn’t a religion is a dangerous tactic, Kremer.

    Which is why it’s best to simply eliminate the category alltogether.

  21. #21 Brock Tice
    March 30, 2007

    Here’s the principal’s email address, if you’d like to express your consternation about unequal treatment of religions:

    jack DAWT evans AET bcsemail DAWT org

    I agree fundamentally with the original post. It’s fine to minimize distractions, but it needs to be done evenly or not at all.

  22. #22 Uber
    March 30, 2007

    Kremer you are a crack up. That you took the time to type the below is hilarious.

    it is pretty easy to defend the claim that pastafarianism is not a religion. Until there are pastafarian assembly halls where people actually attend regularly, donate a large portion of their income to support the activities of the religion, support various charitable activities, participate in initiation ceremonies, care deeply about the FSM, etc, etc, it is simply silly to claim that pastafarianism is a religion.

    All religions need not have assembly halls. Care deeply about the FSM? One has to care deeply about invisible beings to have a religion? Interesting.

    And I don’t think anyone takes FSM seriously although apparently you find it so AND apparently if FSM followers build a few buildings, donate some bucks, have an initiation ceremony, and really, really care about the FSM then they have a religion.

  23. #23 daenku32
    March 30, 2007

    I’d have to second the argument against dressing up like a ninja. Mainly because they might flip out at any second because someone dropped a pencil in class and level the whole school. Ninjas are that awesomely sweet.

  24. #24 factlike
    March 30, 2007

    @MKremer: You claim that “Unless you seriously believe that the kid who came to school dressed as a pirate actually believes in the FSM, you should admit that the principal is exactly right to say that the kid wasn’t being disciplined for his religious beliefs — because the kid doesn’t have any religious beliefs.” I wholeheartedly agree.

    This is why, if I were a principal, I would thoroughly grill all my students about their deepest religious beliefs. There are kids, after all, who don’t actually believe in God, and who only go to church because their parents make them. Any of those kids who show up to school on Ash Wednesday with muck on their faces get suspended. That sort of disruptive behavior is only acceptable if they’re completely sincere. Religious sincerity, of course, is notoriously difficult to judge accurately, but not to worry; I’d be highly qualified to do it, because I’d be a principal.

  25. #25 quork
    March 30, 2007

    But I do think it is pretty easy to defend the claim that pastafarianism is not a religion. Until there are pastafarian assembly halls where people actually attend regularly, donate a large portion of their income to support the activities of the religion, support various charitable activities, participate in initiation ceremonies, care deeply about the FSM, etc, etc, it is simply silly to claim that pastafarianism is a religion.

    Well they’ve got a martyr now. That’s progress.

  26. #26 Tatarize
    March 30, 2007

    You in the pirate gear, take off the eyepatch. Hats are against school policy.

    I really think this is a violation of his rights so long as the other students didn’t care. The metric for religious and political protest is disrupting and taking away from class time. I see nothing in the article to show that that qualification was met.

  27. #27 The Science Pundit
    March 30, 2007

    As Aaron says, there is a BIG reason, i.e., constitutional law. Toss a kid from school for religious expression, and you will have the bizarre experience of having the ACLU and ACLJ united against you, and unless the kid was slitting a chicken’s throat in class or something equally disruptive, you will have your ass handed to you.

    But he wasn’t tossed for religious expression. The point PZ was making is that it’s perfectly okay to suspend a student for causing a disruption or violating a dress code (that applies to EVERYONE), but you cannot start making exceptions for religious beliefs. If school policy is that students should wash the dirt off their faces when they come in from the playground, then granting amnesty to Catholics on Ash Wednesday is discrimination against all non-Catholics. The issue isn’t that the principal was wrong to suspend the student in question, but the follow-up commentary. Maybe some students and teachers find a Muslim headdress to be as disruptive as a pirate eyepatch (I know I would).

    Kremer,
    Yes, Pastafarianism is a parody of religion. But remember why it was invented: it was to counter the teach the controversy that the IDiots were pushing. “If you’re going to teach ID alongside evolution, then you must also teach Pastafarianism. Otherwise it’s government sanctioned religious discrimination.” What that student did was perfectly in the spirit of the FSM. (Or is that the holy spirit of the FSM?) “If you allow religious exemptions for the dress code, then you must allow my pirate costume. Otherwise your exemptions are discriminatory and unconstitutional!

  28. #28 Cogito
    March 30, 2007

    Love it, factlike.

    Also, there’s the issue that Pastafarianism, even if it’s not a sincere belief in the FSM, is a sincere expression of beliefs about religion, even if it’s done in a satirical fashion. The question is, does that qualify for protection as religious expression? I don’t want to get into the whole “atheism/secular humanism is a religion” argument, but I do think with free speech and free religious expression dovetailing in a case like this, administrators do have to tread lightly.

  29. #29 B
    March 30, 2007

    Yes, Pastafarianism is a parody of religion.

    Religion is a parody of itself.

  30. #30 CalGeorge
    March 30, 2007

    “I guess I’ll continue to let them oppress me.”

    That’s what I tell myself every day, Bryan. Every friggin’ day.

  31. #31 Scott Hatfield
    March 30, 2007

    I’m not sure what all the fuss is all about here.

    The fact is that children have more freedom of personal religious expression than teachers or administrators. As long as they do not pose a danger to themselves or others, or else disrupt the educational process, they are free to express themselves through dress. If, however, in a teacher or administrator’s judgement one of those criteria is clearly met, then it seems reasonable to limit that expression.

    This can be a thorny issue: Sikhs, for example, have ceremonial swords as part and parcel of some religious garb for their young men. But, even in this case, the issue would not be infringement upon speech/religious liberty; the issue is what makes for a safe and functional campus….SH

  32. #32 Kennan
    March 30, 2007

    Your comparison of a goofy eyepatch to those other sacraments is unnuanced. The simple fact is that the eyepatch is intended to be goofy, worn in fact to incite giggles (if not even to offend), and objects of faith — albeit goofiness conceded — are not. Should context not be considered? They won’t let Sikh boys bring their daggers into the New York public schools for obvious reasons. I’m assuming the line of logic an administrator would use is that personal sacraments and religious dress that are not a danger to others and are not intended to incite disruptive behavior get an initial pass. Whether or not you agree with that, I think you oversimplified the argument.

  33. #33 Joe Shelby
    March 30, 2007

    To the comments above (I’ve been in meetings all morning since I wrote that) on “who made it up”

    There IS a difference. What we have as “historical” record for the creation of Christianity and Islam, and certainly Judaism, is hardly reliable and certainly not complete.

    Also I was collectively lumping all of Christianity together as all being derived from the original church founded by the Apostles (if you accept Acts and Paul’s writing as having any historical accuracy at all, see point one). Every sect of Christianity, from East Orthodox to Lutheran to the Anglicans and on all can trace themselves to the Catholics at some point.

    By “who made it up” I was referring more to those in modern history where there are multiple, independent sources naming who started what. Prior to, say, a thousand years ago I wouldn’t trust any source as being definitive, especially where the religion is strongly tied into the majority power holder. If we could rely on such writings and claims, Dan Brown wouldn’t have had a book to write.

  34. #34 Peter McGrath
    March 30, 2007

    Maybe he was wearing an eyepatch because he was a biblical literalist, his eye had offended him so he had plucked it out. Or he’s got into a scrap with Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.

  35. #35 maditude
    March 30, 2007

    > Well they’ve got a martyr now. That’s progress.

    quork owes me one new keyboard

  36. #36 Shawn Smith
    March 30, 2007

    Maybe the student was getting ready for when the power went out and the rooms were plunged into near darkness. By switching the eye patch to the other eye, he would be able to see much better than the other students, and get out of the now darkened room safely.

    Or probably not.

  37. #37 Glen Davidson
    March 30, 2007

    It’s really a thorny dilemma.

    I notice the inconsistency all of the time, like you can ingest peyote legally if your religion tells you to, not if your heart or inquiring mind tells you to. And hey, if you have a religious holiday, you must be accommodated within reason, but if an individual has a crucial personal reason to skip work or school, tough.

    But on the other side, identities and beliefs of groups do have to be accommodated more than personal desires, if we’re not going to make society intolerable for minority religions. Groups, even society at large, cannot avoid having some rules and standards for the individual, yet you violate the individual’s rights over-much if you make them give up the signs of membership in their religious and/or ethnic group in order to fit into the larger group. Must the Jewish boy have his forelocks cut in order to fit some code, or is wearing hair according to religion/tradition really the sort of right to identity that is at a higher level than wearing an eyepatch as “self-expression”, or whatever one wishes to call it?

    My sense is that sometimes it does become ridiculously in favor of the religious group and against the sense of what an individual ought to expect. I remember while I was in New York reading a woman’s request for advice on how to “respect” a highly Orthodox Jewish man’s refusal to shake her hand (in the course of business) because she’s a woman (I think the idea is that he’s not supposed to touch a woman, or perhaps a menstruating woman–if the latter, well, he can’t very well ask, so he has to not touch any woman he doesn’t for whom he doesn’t know her intimate details). Cause it’s his religion, don’t you know? And I’m thinking, he’s just a bigot and his actions beyond any reasonable sense of respect. Deal with him if you must, but don’t be any more respectful of this violation of human dignity than you have to be. And if you can, just go ahead and call him on his idiotic bigotry (I didn’t read the response, since I thought that “respecting” such an affront because of his “religion” was beyond the pale).

    I’m willing to go along with the turbans, forelocks, traditional dress, whatever is demanded of religious/ethnic groups (and by the way, in many cases ethnicity and religion are tied together in the minds of many groups, so you can’t speak of respecting ethnic identity without respecting religion) that remains respectful of the individual ought to be accommodated, within reason. But we need to remember that respecting a religious groups practices ought to be done for the sake of the individual, and that an individual’s sense of what is right matters and needs to be accommodated as well, within reason (peyote?). And when religions insist upon mistreating the individual based on ethnicity or gender, sure it should be legal in many aspects of life (today we say wherever it doesn’t affect work, housing, civil rights, etc.), but there’s no call for “respecting” the disrespect that some religions demand for others.

    Basically, where religious identity demands a certain look or act, efforts to allow this are proper, beyond the “need” to allow a kid to wear an eyepatch. We can’t respect the individual without respecting the individual’s membership in religious and/or ethnic group(s) (think of it as being akin to one’s right to assemble in a group). It’s the call to respect what really amounts to bigotry that I don’t like, whether it’s the idiotic requirements that religions place on their members, or the actual requirement that people be treated poorly because “it’s their religion” to do so.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  38. #38 Michael Kremer
    March 30, 2007

    Uber,

    First, I was actually responding to Joe Shelby’s post further up the thread. Joe said:

    “Well, the worst thing about stuff like FSM and certain neo-pagan nature-worshiping types, is that by discriminating against some and not others, it puts the government in charge of actually determining what is and isn’t a “religion”, which in itself is something the government simply shouldn’t be doing.

    This is particularly a crazy when it’s not a “traditional” religion but one where the history is actually quite modern. If you can say that FSM is not a religion because we know who made it up and why, what does that say about Scientology? (yeah, a question that can be answered both ways, work with me here. 🙂 )”

    Joe S seemed to me to be saying that FSM and “certain neo-pagan nature-worshiping types” are on a par as far as being religions is concerned, also that FSM and Scientology are on a par. He seemed to be suggesting that there is some difficulty in deciding that FSM isn’t a religion while neo-pagan nature worship and Scientology are religion.

    Second, no, of course, I don’t think that you need to have assembly halls, etc for a religion. I was trying to gesture at the sort of thing that would lead me to believe that FSM had become a religion. But other things could do that as well — I don’t think there are necessary and sufficient conditions for being a religion and wasn’t trying to specify any — although I do think a purported “religion” which claims to have a holy book (The Gospel according to the FSM) and to be centred around a deity-like being, but whose purported adherents don’t believe in what is said in the book or in the supposed deity, really isn’t a religion.

  39. #39 Joshua
    March 30, 2007

    If the eyepatch had a depiction of the FSM, would that have made it ok? Or would it have to have been a crucifix?

  40. #40 stogoe
    March 30, 2007

    I think there’s a growing schism betwixt the ‘unadorned’ eyepatch people and the ‘skull and crossbones’ eyepatch people.

    The ‘bejeweled’ eyepatch people, commonly slurred as the “One-Eyed Willies”, are blasphemous curs and are in the process of being hunted down and slaughtrered.

    On a slightly more serious note, wouldn’t it be effin hilarious if One Eyed Willie showed up in Pirates 3 this summer?

    (Heck yes it would!)

  41. #41 Uber
    March 30, 2007

    but whose purported adherents don’t believe in what is said in the book or in the supposed deity, really isn’t a religion.

    Fair enough but then religion doesn’t exist anywhere as you have just described who fills the pew on any average Sunday anywhere. Heck definetly the majority of catholics that I have met. But the RCC long ago stopped being a decent religion.

  42. #42 Kilted_Dad
    March 30, 2007

    Second the nomination For Sean Carroll’s Order of Molly!

  43. #43 Bill Dauphin
    March 30, 2007

    Interesting thread. A couple comments:

    First, until we have a completely secular society (note: seculary society, not simply secular government)), special protections for religious people will be a vital aspect of protecting the rights of nonreligious people. Instead of viewing special protection for religious students’ rights to (within reason) observe religious standards in their dress, jewelry, diet, etc., as objectionable, we should see that protection as an essential element of the system of rights that also protects our children from being forced to pray or read from the Bible in public schoool.

    Next, because of the above, it is important that we be able to distinguish between “real” and “fake” religions. Of course, the proper distinction has nothing to do with the truth of the content of the faith, since many secular people don’t believe any of it is true. Instead, it seems to me that the most reasonable test is the existence of a nontrivial number of sincere believers making up some sort of like-minded community. This would serve to distinguish between modern, we-know-who-made-them-up religions (e.g., Scientology and Mormonism) from both parody religions like Pastafarianism (i.e., plenty of like-minded adherents, but AFAIK none of them even pretends to sincerely believe in the FSM) and idiosyncratic personal beliefs (like my neice who claimed, briefly, to be a follower of Zeus, or like some smart@ss kid who might claim his religious beliefs compelled him to always go naked or drink nothing but fermented barley).

    Next, I’m no constitutional lawyer, but I think rights are never absolute, but are always balanced against other rights. AFAIK public institutions like schools must only make reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs. Waiving a no-headgear policy for Muslim girls who want to cover their hair seems reasonable, but no school would let a student do peyote on his lunch break, religion or no.

    Now to the case at hand: From what I can gather, the student is not being punished so much for wearing an eyepatch or professing Pastafarianism, but for refusing to follow reasonable direction from the principal… and I do think it’s reasonable to tell a student he can’t come to school dressed in what amounts to a Halloween costume (except, of course, on days when that’s specifically permitted).

    It’s not clear to me why the student did what he did. If it was a deliberate protest against perceived favorable treatment for religious expression at the school, then good on him. But in that case he should keep in mind that being punished is part of the classical protest equation: You deliberately commit an act of civil disobedience, and then you pay the penalty. In this context, suspension is the equivalent of Martin Sheen getting arrested at a peace sit-in.

    If, OTOH, he was just being goofy and disruptive… well, the school really does have a valid interest in discouraging goofy and disruptive behavior, and given that he had fair warning to modify this behavior, suspension is a relatively moderate response. Keep in mind that in many (if not most) states, it’s illegal to let punishment for social or discipline problems affect academic results, so the school will likely be compelled to make sure his grades don’t suffer because he was suspended (i.e., he’ll have the opportunity to make up any work missed). Unless it’s extremely long or involves draconian impacts on non-academic things (e.g., missing prom or graduation or state championship competitions), suspension isn’t a particularly burdensome punishment.

    Finally, we wouldn’t even have been discussing this on this blog (esp. not on the same day as the Naked Chocolate Jesus kerfuffle) if the principal had just not mentioned religion. He could’ve simply said, “we don’t allow students to come to school in costumes,” and, I’d be willing to bet, nobody would’ve questioned it. “Oh, no, I’ve said too much…”

  44. #44 fardels bear
    March 30, 2007

    Oh, jeez, let the kid wear the silly eye-patch!! Do you REALLY believe that there is a safety issue involved here? Please.

    My daughter wore tiger ears to school every single day when she was in second grade and it caused no disruption whatsoever, mainly because the kids became used to it. Now that she’s in middle-school she cannot wear any hat whatsover because hats violate school policy. And we are supposed to just trust the school principal (a world-class doofus) that hats pose some kind of threat to our educational system?

    Let the kid wear the eye patch. Let the kid wear the yarmulke. Let the kid wear the chador. Let the kid wear ashes on Ash Wednesday. Let the kid wear the “Bong hits for Jesus” t-shirt. Don’t cave into the fools.

  45. #45 Bill Dauphin
    March 30, 2007

    Now that she’s in middle-school she cannot wear any hat whatsover because hats violate school policy. And we are supposed to just trust the school principal (a world-class doofus) that hats pose some kind of threat to our educational system?

    Your particular principal may in fact be a doofus, but plenty of nondoofi also enforce a no-headgear policy, usually starting in middle school, because hats (and bandannas and do-rags and such) are a prime gang identifier. Considering the potential impact of gang violence on non-gang-member students, giving up hats (or tiger ears) seems a relatively trivial concession. Howevermuch we liberal-minded people chafe at anything that smells of authoritarianism, the public schools really do have a responsibility to maintain a safe, well-ordered environment.

    The school system my daughter attends used to have a pretty serious gang problem (e.g., near-riots in the corridors on a fairly regular basis), but no longer does. I certainly wouldn’t attribute the change to the district’s no-headgear policy, but said policy was one aspect of the strategy for turning the schools around. It is, IMHO, a reasonable measure, and as I unfortunately had occasion to learn, it’s also reasonably administered: When my daughter was hairless due to chemotherapy, she needed a special waiver to wear bandannas to middle school… but the waiver was instantly granted, without us having to jump through any particular hoops.

  46. #46 Chinchillazilla
    March 30, 2007

    I actually planned to wear a burqa to school this year to protest our new dress code (they were only going to allow plain t-shirts, among other random rules). But they eased up before school started, so I got out of that one. However, they still won’t let you show collarbones, which are apparently very sexy body parts or something.

  47. #47 fardels bear
    March 30, 2007

    Bill Dauphin:

    Yes, gang activity is the given justification at her school for the no head gear policy. Maybe I should note that this is a small-town school with no history of gang-related violence and no Bloods or Crips in a hundred miles in any direction.

    And, I would agree that a no-headgear policy is a reasonable restriction in an urban area that has had problems with gang violence, it is not in a small-town school with no such problem.

    I hope your daughter is doing better and I’m glad that the school cooperated with her. Compare that to my daughter’s experience: the no headgear policy included a ban on wearing a stocking cap on freezing days when waiting for the bus in the snow. It took a physician’s note to the doofus-in-charge to allow her to wear a her hat.

    I think the key is the “reasonable” word here. We agree that reasonable restrictions on dress is, well, reasonable. But such a word defied an easy definition and we often have to resort to a case-by-case process. And I say, let the kid wear the eyepatch!

  48. #48 PZ Myers
    March 30, 2007

    Well, maybe your collarbones are particularly attractive…?

  49. #49 blf
    March 30, 2007

    How many real pirates (historical or modern) wore eyepatches?

    If the eyepatch was translucent or “one-way”, would that have made a difference?

    If the eyepatch was invisible, would that have made a difference?

    If the eyepatch had blinking lights and randomly sang Abba hits, would that have made a difference?

    If the student was a squid, would that have made a difference?

  50. #50 frog
    March 30, 2007

    Re headgear: what are we going to do about the morons? Seriously, this is what all these threads come down to: a significant portion of the human race uses their brains primarily as heat radiators, or are busy conning the air-conditioned folks. The second class can be sent to re-education camps to dig up potatoes – there a fairly small number. But the rest? Any hope in developing pharmaceutical neuromodulators to up IQ?

  51. #51 frog
    March 30, 2007

    Interesting bit in the story: the teachers didn’t mind. It was an assistant principal who got all hot under the collar. So, we’ve got sensible teachers who understand the kid is making a joke that isn’t disruptive, and best ignored. And then an assistant principal who either is offended, or simple has a knee jerk response to anything unusual, and does something stupid: respond to a kid trying to get a rise out of you.

    Shouldn’t that be in teaching 101? If a kid is misbehaving in a non-disruptive manner, the best thing is to simply ignore it, rather than creating a scene. What are they worried about? That suddenly the cool kids are going to dress up like pirates, instead of one misfit geek?

  52. #52 Thomas
    March 30, 2007

    I think it was John Locke who proposed that the government should not prevent anyone from doing something in the name of religion that they wouldn’t prevent normally. The example he gave was animal sacrifice: the government shouldn’t disallow it, since animals are killed for secular reasons all the time.

    Dress codes sometimes have legitimate reasons (no hats prevents gang activity; no obscenity on shirts because it would cause excessive tittering), but many don’t (no collar bones or eyepatches?). Kids shouldn’t be allowed to disrupt their own education or that of others with what they wear, but often administrators have a damned silly idea of what is disruptive.

    My reading of this situation is that the administrator, as they often do, arbitrarily decided that the eyepatch was silly and disapproved, and (having the authority to do so) asked the kid to take it off. The kid, either being contrarian or realizing the request was silly (or both) refused, and here we are.

    Ironically, even if it wasn’t before, the kid became disruptive when he refused a request, no matter how unreasonable- making the whole thing self-fulfilling!

    Unless the eyepatch was being a distraction (which I grant is a possibility, albiet unlikely), it should have been left alone. The fact that religion was even mentioned is, to me, an indication that the thought process is something like “That eyepatch bugs me, and is thus disruptive. Oh, but don’t worry- I’m not bugged by religion, just *silly* things!” Before a school bans something because it might be disruptive, they should look at an analogous religious thing, and think if they’ll make an exception. If they would, then they’re probably engaging in pro-religious discrimination.

  53. #53 mirror
    March 31, 2007

    I see a justification for the hat rule, not so much because of gang issues but because especially in middle school the hat becomes a prop to fight over and physically violate someone by grabbing it of their head. No other clothing can simply be grabbed. Also, the hats will be lost and found by the nonowners, leading to lots of potential arguments, all best avoided in middle school or high school I suppose. Haven’t gotten there yet with my kid and people didn’t wear hats in my high school back in early 70s, except actual baseball players.

    The eye patch? I have trouble seeing a justification for discipline unless the person is purposely enticing other students to focus on their eye patch.

    The religious connections seem tenuous and twisted. Talk about distraction? Why not have all public school students wear brown canvas monk outfits so no one can see the shape of anyone else’s body.

  54. #54 quork
    March 31, 2007

    However, they still won’t let you show collarbones, which are apparently very sexy body parts or something.

    Indeed they are.

  55. #55 infamous
    March 31, 2007

    Kremer ripped you all on this thread and you are too blind to notice. The FSM’s only purpose is to parody the Judeo-Christian God. THAT is why this kid was wrong for what he did. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is quite offensive to members of those particular faiths. It is not ok to attack these people or make fun of them (which is what this was) for their beliefs, PARTICULARLY at SCHOOL. You can’t logically defend this, and if you do it’s because you have a personal grudge against religion.

  56. #56 infamous
    March 31, 2007

    I would like to add to my previous comment:

    When Christians have the cross on their head on Ash Wednesday or Jews wear a Kippah they are simply observing their religious traditions. I would not be offended if I saw a person wearing a shirt or something else that said “I am an atheist.” If a person wore a shirt like this (assuming it otherwise does not violate the dress code) and was punished by the public school system, the ACLU and etc. would be all over that. If, however, someone was punished for wearing an inflamatory shirt that said something like “gays and atheists will burn in Hell” or “Christians are ignorant morons and Jesus was psychotic” then punishment would be justified as it’s inflammatory. You can’t make fun of someone or attack them for their religious belief. That is the intent of the FSM, and it’s quite obvious.

  57. #57 melior
    March 31, 2007

    it is important that we be able to distinguish between “real” and “fake” religions…it seems to me that the most reasonable test is the existence of a nontrivial number of sincere believers making up some sort of like-minded community.

    Could someone remind me, I’ve forgotten the SI units for making sincerity measurements.

  58. #58 David
    April 1, 2007

    Has anyone considered that the kid was just being a disruptive little so-and-so? What if, when asked to stop being disruptive, he grasped at the “religion” straw as a handy tool to hit his school’s officials with?

    I’ve seen the same done by kids who threaten any adult with “abuse” if they dare to try and remonstrate with them for bad behaviour.

    Sometimes, being told to “stop it, and do what you are told” does not require an in depth philisophical discussion. Sometimes it means, that the poor bloody teacher/administrator/whatever has simply had enough and is trying to control an unruly group of uninterested kids. My guess (and it is just that – a guess) is that the later “justification” was an excuse that was thought up on the spur of the moment, when in actual fact, no excuse was really required.

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