July 30, 2018

The Ultra-Orthodox Jews Who Refuse to Sit Next to Women on Planes

You have probably heard about the ultra-Orthodox Jews who throw fits on airplanes when they are expected to sit next to...(gasp)...women. Lots of people are upset about this, and understandably so. Imagine being an atheist woman attempting to travel. The man whose seat is next to yours refuses to sit next to you and becomes belligerent when the airline staff informs him that the flight is full, that there are no other options, and that he'll need to return to his seat. Why should you have to put up with this sort of nonsense?

Who is supposed to accommodate his silly religious beliefs here? Should the airline staff demand that the woman trade seats with some random man? What if she doesn't want to move because she's in the seat she requested? And what about the man who is put into her seat after observing the entire spectacle? Why should he have to sit next to this guy? Perhaps the answer is that nobody needs to accommodate silly beliefs like this just because they are rooted in religion.

I'd be willing to bet that if we polled enough people, we'd be able to find at least one White person somewhere in the U.S. who would be willing to admit that they'd prefer not to sit next to a person of color on a flight. Should we accommodate them? Does their request really sound any less stupid? And are we really going to argue that the ultra-Orthodox Jew should be accommodated because the basis of his bigotry is religious? Would that mean that we'd need to do the same for one of the Christian Identity folks?

Some of the people who are upset over incidents like this say that the ultra-Orthodox Jews should not be permitted to fly if they cannot behave themselves. Depending on when they make a scene and whether the plane is in the air at the time, this could certainly be an option. Here's another one. Maybe 1-2 men on the flight could politely volunteer to switch seats with any affected woman who was willing to move, make sure there is one on each side of the offender if possible, and engage in some world-class manspreading for the entire flight. Manspreading. Are there any problems it can't solve?

Seriously, though, the point is that I do not think we should continue to enable bigotry just because it happens to have religious origins. The fact that bigotry is often connected to someone's religious beliefs does not mean it is not still bigotry. And frankly, I am not sure why we'd want to accommodate bigotry.