In all likelihood, T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock” is no longer part of the canon of English Literature, if one still exists. So the title quote may not resonate with people under 40, but it seems poetically accurate as to where our society is drifting and to which minutiae we are giving our judicial attention.
Two news items today fall into the category of small issues, affecting a tiny percentile of our population which have gained national attention and the court’s valuable time. The first concerns the rights of prisoners to sport beards for religious reasons, despite the strictures of penal institutions that the possibility of hiding razors and other sharp objects in beards poses security concerns. Nevertheless, the case of Gregory Holt, an Arkansas inmate aka Abdul Maalik Muhammad has now come all the way to the Supreme Court. Mr. Holt/Muhammad is serving a life sentence for burglary and domestic battery, an innocuous term for slitting his ex-girlfriend’s throat and stabbing her repeatedly in the chest. The real question that the court should address is whether after attempted murder, one deserves the right to ask the state to worry about one’s religious rights. Should the state be involved in offering religious succor to people who made every effort to kill?
The second case involves a 16 year old “gender-nonconforming” boy who insists on the right to wear full makeup for his driver’s license photo. The South Carolina Dept of Motor Vehicles stipulates that makeup on a boy is a form of disguise and that it has a formal policy regarding requirements for the license photo. The mother of the boy is suing the DMV for gender discrimination. Should a minor be allowed to determine that he is a different gender than his biological one for the purpose of official documents? Shouldn’t that be subject to the attainment of adult status? More significantly, should we be encouraging young people to insist that society/government bend to every phase they go through and every idiosyncratic feature they possess or should we be stressing that for bureaucratic simplicity, people follow the simplest norm and reserve their individuality for their personal lives. This is not about sitting in the back of the bus or not being allowed into school - it’s about conforming to the rules of the state at least until you’re an adult. It’s common for young people who claim to be transgender to change their minds during and after adolescence so why not agree that deicisions affecting legal documents be postponed until adulthood.
The underlying issue is the wave of separatist entitlement that has engulfed American society from the broadest to the most picayune concerns. Liberals complain about political and social divisiveness in our country but it seems that around every bend, people are demanding recognition for smaller and smaller identities. Instead of us rallying as Americans, we are Latino, African-American, Disabled, LGBT, Feminist, Unionist, Nudist, Cyclist, Atheist, Muslim and every other religion. Instead of looking for ways to deviate from the norm, let’s return to it and work around it when the stakes are small. A sixteen year old boy may change his mind about his appearance many times before he’s fully grown - must we guarantee the each incarnation of his image be represented to his liking on his license? Do people demand new pictures when they change their hairstyles, have plastic surgery, undergo chemotherapy, wear hairpieces or wigs? Why is a phase of gender-noncormity more deserving of legal protection than any of the aforementioned predilections or conditions?
We make a mockery of anti-discrimination laws when we look for smaller and pettier ways to apply them. We make a mockery of justic when we worry more about the spiritual comfort of killers than about the welfare of their victims.
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