One advantage of being up the North Shore out of the mainstream is perspective. It’s a dose of comforting reality to know the wolf I see on the lake ice is the real four-legged type instead of a political or cultural form of ravenous beast. I like the definiteness of a strong east wind hurling tops off wave curls, but days the mist rises to drift upward untroubled are nice, too. Perspective and the real or physical world are worthy elements to complement most any life.
I think our cultural habit of looking to nature for perspective and balance is part of what makes Minnesotans nice. Putting it that way will not upset my more conservative friends who, when told to look at that as political correctness, are turned as bared-teeth carnivorous as any wolf outside my door. Some I know want to be wolfish, and jump at any chance to do so. “It’s the principle of the thing.” I go along with that because I do it myself; different subjects but same basic pattern. I’ve tried calming some friends with the assurance that asking if we are biased and trying not to routinely inflict prejudice on others is a good thing that helps us be better people. Generally they listen about as well as a wolf does to vegetarian doctrine. But if I believe, as I do, in the value of making that extra effort to understand and correct my bad habits, then I have to maintain reasoned defense of correctness same as those not buying it need to bare fangs and chew a limb. I’m OK with the process because grasping another perspective or stepping outside the walls of my own comfort zone can be constructive at any age. At worst, having an idiot tell me I’m an idiot gives something we can agree on. That is how progress can begin, or end, or never budge. But who knows?
Those who read my weekly 1,000 know there are a few topics I hold special. Those who do will not be surprised to read that I was highly engaged to read a “Minnesota Nice” account of the St. Paul Police Department being the second in the nation to make an exception for officer uniform wear based on religious requirement. We can, as what I reviewed suggested, take pride in a tradition of accommodation that holds the doors of service open to all who strongly desire to participate. It is not correctness or compromise when the end result is promotion of the higher value of liberty and respect for the individual. That’s grand stuff, isn’t it? A person like me who is sometimes called a dimwitted liberal should fall for that in a heartbeat, shouldn’t I? Almost, but not quite. I start down the flowered path but wait a minute.
Things do in fact look different from a fringe area such as the North Shore rather than in the metro news. I asked myself how religious accommodation could work its way into police (in this case that of a new female officer with an express requirement she work in her religious head covering) uniform. If, as some know, you offer employment or lodging, can you insert a religious preference without facing a charge? Is it OK for a job application to ask your religion? You know the answer to both: NO. Employment and housing (among other things) are religion neutral; it’s off limits. So how can something than can’t be asked about or included in a work application end up as an exception in what can be worn as “uniform”? A representative of the St. Paul force gave one reason, saying this accommodation was made because the officer was very devout in her beliefs. The soft-hearted easy-touch liberal in me said an immediate “So what?” Religious devotion is not a job requirement for police work. Now it may be the St. Paul “boys” or girls (that’s PC at work) in blue have an employee tasked with providing devotion reports on all the officers. Do you think? I doubt very much they do, and if they were to do such a thing I’d oppose it, though I imagine the officers’ union would have got to that one before me.
I’m not saying that accommodation in uniform has no validity or value, but it is no small thing when that adjustment means the first thing most of us will see is clothing stating religious belief. To me that is not religious neutrality. Is it to you? In fact, it appears to me as kissing-close as you can get to a governmental advocacy/establishment of religion. What route wove separation of church and state into neutrality that pops up as religious exception for some employees in public service uniform dress? An exception on religious grounds would be fairer if all officers were allowed one half-yard of head covering to display their affiliation, though what agnostics and atheists would wear I do not know. Actually, I’d oppose that, too. Religious proclamation in public service is not acceptable. It is a violation, one that would last how long if an officer wore a much smaller religious pin on his/her uniform?
I’ll try to think what some of you or the St. Paul force are saying. “It is only a head covering.”
Exactly, meaning it is just about the first thing a citizen will see. And if I understand the meaning of “devout,” this clothing signal very well includes other marks of the “devout” such as gender roles and avoidance of things religiously unclean. None of that seems very neutral to me. It says an officer follows other dictates in her public service because the headwear declares allegiance to a set of traditional religious beliefs. This is obvious because if the declaration were not to those traditional beliefs and practices, the officer could cover her hair with a police hat. I give her credit for not sacrificing her principles, but when it comes to blurring the line between church and state, that’s a principle I’ll not yield without a fight.