What’s More Frightening Than Snakes on a Plane?

What’s even more frightening than snakes on a plane? Apparently, women on a plane, as recent reports of flights being delayed due to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit in their assigned seats next to women, indicate.

Here on RD, Kara Loewentheil recently argued that the airplane demonstration but that it “replicates the broader social and political movement strategies we’ve seen on a personal scale,” and highlighted the similarities between these smaller-scale protests and religious employers protesting the Affordable Care Act under claims of religious freedom.

While I agree with Loewentheil’s points, I wish to add that what this protest shows, as do many other broader conservative religious movements, is that it isn’t a question of women’s rights versus religious freedom, as some reporters have framed it, and it isn’t actually an issue of religious freedom at all. Rather, these culture war battles are about trying to impose one’s own religious beliefs as a trump against all other perspectives, religious or otherwise.

Why aren’t the men whose religious beliefs are at stake the ones switching seats? Why do the women need to move? Why do employers need to impose their religious views on their non-religious or differently-religious employees? It seems to be more about getting one’s way–and making sure everyone else has to do it your way, too–than about genuine claims to religious freedom.

Further, wouldn’t standing in the aisles nearly guarantee an encounter with women? Because anyone who has ever had to navigate around another person in an airplane aisle knows there will be some sort of contact as you move past; the space just isn’t big enough for most people to avoid that. If your goal is sincerely to avoid contact, it seems to me that remaining in your own seat, lowering your eyes and simply relinquishing your claim to the armrest would be a more effective means of not touching a woman.

It seems hard to believe that “hundreds” of men wound up in the same situation and found it easier to block the aisles or demand others change their seats, rather than, for instance, reassemble themselves.

If sitting next to a woman would put one in dire religious straits, prevent it from happening in the first place. Book in advance and with other male friends and select your seats together. Traveling solo? Buddy up through an ad in a local shop or community center. Last minute emergency? Call the airline right away to see about possibilities for accommodating your needs.

Likewise, if one is ardently anti-abortion for moral reasons, rather than only focus on making it illegal, prevent it by limiting unwanted pregnancies: help ensure adequate, healthy sex education and contraception are available to those who need or want them. Work to make affordable, quality prenatal care, labor & delivery accessible to all, especially low-income women.

There are many easy solutions to the airplane seating chart dilemma that allow for religious freedom for the ultra-Orthodox–without impeding the religious freedoms of others. And while the above suggestions for anti-abortion activists may be overly simplistic, there are ways for many religious conservatives, including opponents to the contraception mandate, same-sex marriage and other culture war battlegrounds, to exercise their own religious freedom while protecting the right for others to exercise their religious freedom as well.

Because otherwise, it’s starting to sound like it’s not religious freedom unless everyone else has to comply, too.