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| ||What do you think of organizations such as the Church of Body Modification and using religion to defend against body modification related discrimination?|| |
| ||Voice your opinion: the Reader's Response section.||Return to Round Table index|| |
The reasons why an individual chooses body modification are unique -- while most reasons seem to fall into common categories, the exact reasons are personal. People choose a piercing, tattoo, or other modification for their own reasons -- adornment, fulfillment, celebration, recognition, spirituality, individuality, uniformity, etc. There are people who want a nostril piercing to celebrate their heritage, and people who want one to look like Christina Aguilera, and people who just think they look pretty. There are people who choose to be branded as a badge of pride, a symbol of pain, or a mark to show their involvement with a fraternity. Some people can't assign a clear reason, they just want it.
There are religions around the world that incorporate various forms of body modification in their traditions, rituals, and imagery. And there are individuals who consider their modifications to be an essential aspect of their spirituality -- their principles and connection to self and the world around them. It seems reasonable to me that these individuals can claim the link between their "religion" and their body modifications, and therefore the protections allowed for free religious practice in countries such as the United States. A Jewish employee (or student) shouldn't be required to remove his yarmulke, even if the dress code prohibits hats. US courts have handed down decisions protecting this as a right of religious freedom. So why should someone have to remove or conceal a body modification that is a mark, symbol, or tradition of his or her religion?
One big issue is that society has trouble recognizing religions that fall outside the mainstream (Judeo-Christian religions and, to some extent, Buddhism and Hinduism). An employer has heard of Judaism, and seen a yarmulke, and will probably allow them in the dress code without a fuss. But if you approach with an unknown religion, be it the Church of Body Modification or your own personal spiritualism, this is unfamiliar and you will probably be met with skepticism, at best. What is a religion? Does it have to be recognized by others? As religions and spirituality are usually based on some amount of personal faith, this is incredibly hard to define. As a result, most dress codes dismiss anything outside of mainstream religion. Wiccans have fought for the right to wear pentagrams and pentacles in public schools, and some have not won that right in the courts.
Specific organizations have been founded in the name of religious body modification, such as the Church of Body Modification. A frequent criticism of these organizations is that they are "churches" by name only, that they exist to provide legal protection of body modification and not to practice any sort of organized religion. This ties back into the consideration of what a "religion" should be -- is it institutionalized, or can it be personal? This debate extends outside the body modification community, as many small churches have popped up (especially online) and have had trouble establishing legal recognition as religious organizations.
As the reasons for body modification are personal and unique, I cannot speak for others about the connections between modifications and religion. I do not claim any religious reason for my modifications, and it would be dishonest for me to use religion as a "membership card" to claim discrimination in a workplace or school. But for others who may genuinely feel that their modifications are connected to their religion, I believe that they should have the right to freedom of religious expression through modifications.
This issue is definitely a touchy subject within the community. As such, it is not a clear cut yes or no question. Several factors come into play when discussing religious discrimination in regards to modifications.
The first and, in my opinion, biggest issue is why the employer does not allow visible modifications in their workplace. They may feel employees with visible modifications will have a negative result on their business. Perhaps customers/clients have complained in the past? Perhaps the setting is very formal and as such the establishment is expected to maintain a certain visual aesthetic? Any number of reasons could come into play. These may not be "good reasons" to us, but as they say business is business. The majority of businesses are established with one goal in mind: make money. To make money you need customers. No business wants to lose customers. Therefore, if not allowing visible modifications would increase, or at the very least not decrease, their customer base then the employer is obviously not going to allow them. It is unfair as an employee to expect a business to lose customers/money so you may have a visible modification.
Perhaps it is a safety issue? I recently worked as a correctional officer for two years. While at work, I was not allowed to have any visible piercings. They had no problem with visible tattoos as long as they were not of a racial/derogatory nature. The piercing issue was simply a matter of safety. An inmate looking to cause some trouble would love to grab onto an officer's septum piercing and lead him around like a puppy. Large ear piercings as well as some facial piercings also prevent a proper seal from forming while wearing a gas mask. Many other occupations have special safety requirements that need to be met in order for the company to comply with safety standards and some of these requirements require modifications to be removed.
The reasons for and against modifications in the workplace could go on forever. Some may be fair while others are purely derived from bigotry and ignorance. However, as I've repeatedly said employers have a right and a responsibility to protect their bottom line and have to do what they feel is necessary to maintain their earnings.
While one could argue the pros and cons of visible modifications in the business world all day, how about looking at what makes something "spiritual" or should be defined as a religion.
A question I would pose is: Does a large group declaring something is spiritual constitute it as a religion? Not to make light of someone's spirituality or to say that the CoBM is not a legitimate organization. However, look at it from another perspective. I'm sure many of you have seen the Church of Spongebob Squarepants farce that was popular on the net not long ago. Imagine if a large number of people declared watching Spongebob and painting themselves yellow were vital to their spiritual well-being. If enough people got behind this movement, would employers be expected to hire individuals painted yellow? Would scheduled Spongebob television breaks be as valid as the Muslim's Salah (5 daily prayers)?
Some people may be offended at such an analogy, others may laugh, but is one anymore ridiculous than the other? As long as the "believers" believe then isn't that all that matters?
In my opinion any religious protection in the workplace is ludicrous. It should be a non-issue. You are applying to be a representative of a company. As a representative of said company, when you punch the time clock, you are on their time. They are paying you to perform a function. They have the right to tell you how you should not only do this function, but also how you should look while you are completing said function. If you do not like the way a company requires its employees to dress, then do not work there. You applied for this job, it was not forced upon you. You asked for it, you got it. If you don't like it get another one. Simple as that.
This is a bit disjointed, but hopefully I got my point across:
I don't agree with using 'religion' or something like the CoBM to defend against employers or discrimination. Why? Simply put, if you're modified, then you should expect to receive discrimination, be that right or wrong...that's just how it is. If a person wishes to be visibly modified, then he or she needs to be aware and prepared for the inevitable discrimination and general rudeness that comes with being a visibly modified person in our society. Applying this to jobs, a person needs to be aware that jobs entail regulations, which means that by accepting the job, they are also accepting the fact that they may have to conform to a certain mandated physical appearance.
Using a 'religion' to try to mitigate discrimination is not only right, but its impossible. To say that you are modifying yourself for your own spiritual purposes is fine and well, but that does not mean that one should expect for others to automatically understand and condone it.
Trying to claim religious discrimination, I think, is difficult to do when there is a 'god' involved. When you get something like the CoBM, which is a nondenominational gathering of people, what you really have is a club, or a group...not something that I would classify as a religion.
In short, then, I don't find it a strong argument to claim being a member of the CoBM and claim religious discrimination because of it. It's a group based off of the 'spiritual' aspect of body modification (which, I might add, not all people feel/believe in), and not a 'god'...although it may be recognized as a Church in the USA, I do not recognize it as something that can be called a true faith...and not a true religion.
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