One of the wonderful freedoms that we enjoy in America is the freedom of religion. Enshrined as the first right in the First Amendment, Americans are free to practice (or not practice) the religion of their choice without fear of undue or unreasonable government interference. While the First Amendment is directed primarily at what government can and cannot do regarding a person’s religious expression, there are safeguards in place to accommodate religious beliefs in the workplace and in other venues as well.
Our religious beliefs and practices should not trump common-sense regulations designed to protect all citizens. For example, no one, regarless of their faith, should be able to have a driver’s license picture taken with their face fully or partially covered so as to obscure the identity of the license holder. I think most Americans would find this patently absurd. Likewise, safety precautions relating to dress and/or headgear warn on certain rides at amusement parks should apply to all patrons equally. No one group should expect to receive an exemption from a reasonable rule designed to protect all riders on a given thrill ride.
Apparently, a group of Muslims at the Rye Playland Amusement Park in Westchester County, NY to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, an Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, thought they should be allowed to wear Muslim headgear (hijabs) on all the rides, regardless of the safety rules that were in place not only for their protection, but for the protection of all riders. When this group of Muslims did not get their way, a fight broke out which injured two Playland park rangers who were taken to a local hospital.
Was this just another case similar to the incident at Dollywood when an overly aggressive Neidermeyer-type ticket-taker refused to allow two lesbians into the park because of some supposed violation of a t-shirt rule which never existed and was not posted on their website? From the evidence, that does not appear to be the case. The leader of the group was apparently told that headgear could not be worn on certain rides.
However, what separates this case from the Dollywood one is the posting of clear guidelines on Rye Playland’s website for which rides allow headgear to be worn. Now, unless someone from Rye Playland snuck around in the last 24 hours and added saftey notations to their website — including which thrill rides allow headgear — then it is clear that these rules were not imposed upon this Muslim group out of left field. That the group leader did not convey the clear rules to his or her group appears to be one of the major factors leading to the altercation that took place.
Unfortunately, behind what animates the reaction that took place is a sense of entitlement that some Muslims seem to possess. I say “some” because I believe that most Muslim-Americans desire to live by the rule of law which applies to all citizens without regard to a particular religion. However, some Musim-Americans believe that the rules do not apply to them, even if those rules are reasonable and are applied in a fair manner to everyone, regardless of their faith or religion. This thinking is illustrated by the comments of one member of the group at Rye Playland:
“Everybody got mad, everybody got upset,” Amr Khater, a Brooklyn resident, told The Journal News. “It’s our holiday. Why would you do this to us?”
It may have been Mr. Khater’s holiday, but it wasn’t his park. It may have been Mr. Khater’s holiday, but it doesn’t exempt him from the rules which apply to us all. It may be Mr. Khater’s religion, but his religion (or any religion for that matter) does not give him (or anyone else) the right to disregard the rules that are put in place for everyone. No one — not Muslim, not Christian, not Jew — gets a free pass to do whatever we want. We have the wonderful right to practice our religion freely within this country (a right that Christians and Jews do not have in much of the Middle East). Let’s not abuse that right by demanding non-sensical exemptions to the established guidelines for living in the greatest country in the world. And, that’s not just limited to Amusement Parks!