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Women to the back of the bus? A fascinating case of law vs. religion
A woman soldier stands in the front area of a bus in Israel. A religious person yells at her that she’s a tramp, a tramp, a tramp without honor for standing among men. He yells in a forceful, somewhat threatening manner. He is arrested and is currently being charged for, wait for it, sexual harassment.

The background is complicated but there is currently a battle in Israel between religious fanatics who want women hidden from their world (maybe they’d prefer it if women didn’t exist at all) and the secular public. They want women to go on the back of the bus, specifically in certain buses which are also used by them, and even in main areas of certain cities. 

What does the court do in this case? Legally, the religious public does not abide by our laws of gender neutrality. In the US the law has ample room for religious out-laws (that is, for people to be exempt from laws for religious reasons). I’m not sure what’s the case in Israel. I find using the article of Sexual harassment a brilliant idea, but I’m also perplexed. This is not a case of real violence, but a conflict in secular and religious moral codes. What does sexual harassment mean here?

Will this soldier be Israel’s minimal version of Rosa Parks? What if Christianity believed blacks should be separated from whites? (I’ll mention that religious people are actually called blacks in Hebrew (because of their clothing), so using a play on words there is an irony of the blacks wanting ‘Rosa’ in the back of the bus for being a woman.)

That is, should secular law be used against religious behavior when no physical harm is done only a disagreement of morality?

I should add that together with feeling perplexed, I also see a tremendous opportunity here for fighting religious racism. If we were looking at a chess match (black and white pun only semi-intended) I would say it's a surprising and strong move.
Thanks for starting this topic, Roy. I wasn't aware of this; have since read
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/28/world/middleeast/israeli-girl-at-center-of-tension-over-religious-extremism.html
The most interesting part of that article is the end:

In the more austere Ramat Beit Shemesh B, a 32-year-old mother of four defended the gender separation on public transportation, saying that it was necessary to preserve women’s honor on crowded buses that squeezed people like “tomato puree.”


But the woman, who gave only her first name, Rivka, for fear of provoking the disapproval of her neighbors, also told a story that revealed the costs of separation: one night, the extremists came and removed all the public benches from the neighborhood, so that the women could no longer sit outside with their children in the street.

I really don't understand where this behavior comes from.

But returning to your question, Roy, about the intersection of secular and religious law, I realize how little I understand the idea of "religious policing." It's simply unclear to me how it's possible to use physical threats to enforce "religiously compliant" behavior without changing the entire nature of being religious. Doesn't every religion respect holiness as a choice? Doesn't compulsion or the fear of death or injury render choice, and therefore faith, impossible? What have I misunderstood?

In response to Emily Andrews
Emily, reading your last paragraph I couldn't exactly believe what I was reading (and am in-between bewilderment and laughing). Are you being ironic?
Two words: The Inquisition.

Without going into even more details isn't the physical threat of eternal physical harm in hell one of the major "incentives" of Christianity for you to make the right choice. 

In response to Roy Snider
More idealistic than ironic. "Doesn't?" should have been "shouldn't?" ...And I still think there's a major difference in the case where "God" is doing the punishing.

My comment was about the psychology of the would-be believer, not about the "effectiveness" from the point of view of religious society. Sure, if you have a group of religious fundamentalists they are likely to prefer a situation where everyone behaves in the "right" way and keeps any doubts to themselves. I was saying (from an idealistic outside point of view) that the cowed minority is not necessarily any "more religious" for being made to pretend to keep the faith.

In some sense I was trying to understand what is really at stake in using religion as a tactic of intimidation. Is it to overwhelm the person being attacked (e.g. the threat of hell), or to provide a kind of impenetrable cover for the person doing the attacking?
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Latest Post: December 31, 2011 at 9:37 AM
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