Rather than the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, legislatures in the United States should get busy passing Freedom from Religion bills.
After all, to me (and many others) religiosity is a relationship between an individual and his/her imagined divinity. It's a matter of personal belief, which I have no problem with. Believe whatever you want, so long as you don't interfere with the right of other people to believe as they want.
Unfortunately, all too often religion becomes a matter of outward action, rather than inner belief. And not private actions, but public ones that affect other people.
Case in point: ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who refuse to sit next to women on airplanes. This absurdity is described in a New York Times story, "When a Plane Seat Next to a Woman is Against Orthodox Faith."
It is not an entirely new issue; some ultra-Orthodox travelers have tried to avoid mixed-sex seating for years. But now the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population is growing rapidly because of high birthrates. Ultra-Orthodox men and their families now make up a larger share of airline travelers to Israel and other locations, giving them more economic clout with airlines, and they are making their views more widely known in response to what they see as the sexualization of society.
Well, I have my own deeply held moral beliefs. Vegetarianism, for example.
I haven't eaten a bite of meat or fish for forty-five years, having become a vegetarian when I was twenty-one because I didn't want to be responsible for killing animals unnecessarily. I've sat next to countless meat-eaters who were eating food that once had a face.
I've never changed my seat. I've never made a big deal out of having to be close to people who were doing something I think is wrong. That's because I regard my personal beliefs as just that: personal. I don't expect other people to believe in vegetarianism as I do, nor do I demand that they accommodate my beliefs.
When an airline doesn't have a vegetarian meal available, I shove the meat to one side and eat the rest. Or I bring a veggie sandwich along in my carry-on bag.
So why is it that so many religious believers feel that other people should accommodate their personal beliefs? Like giving up their seat for a Jewish man who refuses to sit next to women.
Francesca Hogi, 40, had settled into her aisle seat for the flight from New York to London when the man assigned to the adjoining window seat arrived and refused to sit down. He said his religion prevented him from sitting beside a woman who was not his wife. Irritated but eager to get underway, she eventually agreed to move.
I've believed in some strange stuff before I saw the light and became an atheist.
However, I never felt that people needed to either share my beliefs, or go out of their way just because I held them. Sure, I'd ask friends and family to serve something vegetarian if I ate at their home, but I wouldn't think of demanding this of someone I didn't know well.
I guess many "people of faith" have a very different view of religion that I did when I was religious. For me, it was a personal, private relationship with a divinity that I believed to exist. It had very little to do with behaving in a certain way out in public, or demanding that other people act in a certain way.
Live and let live. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
These two proverbs make a lot of sense to me. If religious believers don't want people telling them what to do or what to believe, they shouldn't be imposing their actions and beliefs on others.