Why is it that pierced ears are acceptable but a pierced nose gets you thrown out of school? Why is it OK for a 14-year-old Catholic girl to come to school with a streak of ashes on her forehead on Ash Wednesday, but if that same girl shows up with a tattoo the proverbial smelly stuff hits the fan?
And what if that girl happens to be a member of the Church of Body Modification (WARNING: Graphic images!), and the ACLU gets involved?
Well, it has churned up a big pile of religious mud that Christians would rather leave undisturbed. It shows just how much special treatment religions get in this country. We're OK when Christians get their holidays and rituals, but when some unconventional ("weirdo") religion come along with oddball beliefs and tries to claim the same privileges, everyone cries foul. The mainstream religions don't like it one bit.
"The purpose of my nose ring is, it makes me kind of feel whole," said Arianna Iacono, the girl at the center of the fuss. [Note: news articles spell her name "Ariana" and "Arianna."] The Church of Body Modification "represents a collection of members practicing ancient and modern body modification rites." And these aren't like the sailor tattoos on Uncle Joe's forearm. Their web site makes it clear they endorse some pretty strong stuff, including suspension, where people stick huge hooks into themselves and are hoisted into the air by their own skin.
But the principal of Arianna's school was having none of it. It seems the school district has some sort of religious test to ferret out the sincerity of students' beliefs, and the principal decided that Arianna wasn't sincere. Unfortunately, this put the school in the position of deciding whose religious beliefs are legitimate and whose are not.
You can sort of see their point. What's to keep anyone from violating every rule in the school by claiming it's part of some oddball religion you've never heard of? There'd be no discipline at all. You might be justified to suspect that the so-called "religions" are just a farce concocted to get around the rules.
I'll tell you frankly that I dont' believe Arianna's religious sincerity. I suspect it's a farce, just like the principal said. But I also believe that all religious rituals are equally silly. They are ancient beliefs that have no place in a modern world of scientific discoveries and rational thought. To me, Christmas, Hannukah and Ramadan are no more or less silly than the Church of Body Modification. So I'm on her side. We either judge them all, or judge none.
Religions are protected by our Constitution, as they should be. But Christianity has had a monopoly in the United States for the past couple centuries, and people always assumed it would be that way. We all take Sundays off. Schools used to serve fish on Friday instead of red meat. Christmas is a national holiday, and priests can shield the confessions of thieves and murderers. Churches don't pay taxes.
Now the Christians have been hoist by their own petard. By accepting all of these special privileges, they are now forced to give the same Constitutional protection to everyone. That is what religious freedom is about.
You can't have it both ways. Either churches are exempt from normal rational analysis or they're not. Nobody can say that a cracker turns into Jesus' flesh, then in the next breath claim that body art isn't legitimate religion.