Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.
Check out this report:
A student has been suspended from school in America for coming to class dressed as a pirate.
But the disciplinary action has provoked controversy – because the student says that the ban violates his rights, as the pirate costume is part of his religion.
The religion in question, of course, is Pastafarianism. As a devotee of the Flying Spaghetti Monster myself, I feel the child’s pain. In this particular instance, of course, I am with the school—as perhaps that cunning young man intends us all to be.
We all have a right to religion, but the rights that we have do not extend to other people’s private property. For example, I have a right to fart, but if you have set a “No Farting” rule in your house, I don’t have any right to impose my farting on you. I can fart all I want in the public domain and in my own space, but not in your house.
Similarly, the school has a right to ban pirate costumes—or turbans and veils, other such religious objects of controversy—on its property. Anyone who feels offended is welcome to take their business elsewhere. You do have a right to religion, but not a right to impose your religion on spaces that belong to other people.
That goes for free speech as well. Your right to free speech applies to the public domain and to your own property, but it is immensely silly when you invoke free speech to ask a blogger to open comments on his blog, his private property, or not monitor them when they are open. (Manish tells me that Sepia Mutiny gets that argument all the time.) It conflates private property and the public domain, and without the sanctity of the first, all other rights would be meaningless.
Pastafarianism illustrates the absurdity of many religious claims beautifully. The next time you hear of someone insisting on taking a kirpan into a plane or wearing a veil to a school that does not allow it, do remember this pirate boy.
Posted by Amit Varma in Freedom
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