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America’s Morality Police

In Saudi Arabia, the Mutaween are 3,500 public officials and thousands of volunteers who work for the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. They are responsible for enforcing strict religious laws. Among the many laws are those that require all women to wear head scarves and black gowns when in public.

The “Morality Police” also exist in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and several fundamentalist Arab countries.

It isn’t only in Arab countries that morals are regimented and institutionalized.

In France, the minister of health, a physician, believes there should be laws to prohibit companies and advertisers from using anorexic fashion models. He believes overly thin models—the ones who can make six-figure incomes by being at least five-foot-eight, have high cheek bones and Size Zero bodies—gives the wrong impression to the youth who  starve themselves into emaciation to be seen as beautiful.

He is right about that. But he is wrong to want laws to require the fashion industry to adhere to a set of minimum standards for appearance.

If there can be laws to regulate the portrayal of “healthy” models, what will prevent the system from prohibiting the depiction of plump or even fat models? Of course, in the fashion industry, a Plus-Size Model is anyone who is a Size 8, even though the average size in the United States is a Size 14.

Should government regulate what people look like, even if they appear to be unhealthy. Or different?

What about having black hair or dreadlocks? Should government determine that should also be banned?

In the United States, the Morality Police regulate everything from the color of hair to what people do in their bedrooms.

A high school in Missouri recently suspended a student for having “unnatural” hair color.  The student, a junior, is a natural redhead, but she decided to dye her hair auburn. Unfortunately, the commercial hair dye gave her what the school administrators thought was an unnatural color of red.

That high school isn’t the only one with Puritanical rules. School administrators and their elected school boards throughout the country have somehow given themselves the right to create and enforce rules that prohibit students from wearing clothes that could impede the learning of other students. It might be logical to ban girls from wearing short-shorts and halter tops to class. Or, maybe guys who, on a hot day, decide to embarrass themselves and others by wearing nothing but Speedos to Biology class.

But does it really matter what color someone chooses to dye her hair? Is an honors student with streaks of green in her blonde hair more of a threat to society than a mousy-brown haired sophomore who carries a D-plus average?

What about a guy who decides to shave his head? Or wear his hair in a Mohawk style. Or a shag? What if he decides that a pale goatee improves his looks?

Does hair style and color or even wearing homemade ear rings really impede the learning process enough to lead to suspension? Students try out different looks for any of a couple of dozen different reasons, and then often revert to what society believes is within the range of “normal.”

But, even if the students decide they like pink hair or wearing a headband, why should school administrators decide to reign in creativity and enforce conformity? Aren’t there more important things to do in schools than to be the Morality Police?

Now, let’s look at the enforcement of laws outside of schools.

In several states, it is still illegal for consenting adult partners to have oral sex. In several states, same-sex marriage is illegal. Should the nation be creating and enforcing laws that encourage voyeuristic Morality Police to look inside bedrooms and decree what is and is not acceptable?

Should this nation—or any nation—arrest and convict a gay couple who have “unnatural” hair color? And should this nation be building more prisons and paying more for incarceration for pretend-crimes that have no impact to the rest of society than for education?

In Georgia, Republican legislators have decided to allow freedom of religion. This seems like a good thing—especially since the First Amendment protects and advocates freedom of religion. But in this case, the law, which will probably be passed, bastardizes the intent of the First Amendment. That proposed law would allow businesses to discriminate against gays—as customers or employees—solely upon what a business owner claims is his or her religious right.

The law, as written, would also allow those who beat their children or spouses a “get out of jail free” card if they can prove that violence is acceptable in their religion, even if there are no churches or preachers.

Thus, in Georgia, it might be possible for a child molester to not be arrested, while a 16-year-old with blue-streaked hair be suspended or expelled from school.

And we—loyal and patriotic Americans—complain about the Morality Police in certain Arab countries?!

Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth analysis of the effects of fracking upon public health, the environment, worker safety, and agriculture. 

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Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an analysis of the history, economics, and politics of fracking, as well as its environmental and health effects.

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