National Catholic Register


TSA Searches and Modesty: What's a Catholic to Do?

BY Simcha Fisher

| Posted 5/20/11 at 7:00 AM


One of my favorite parts about my life is that I never, ever, ever fly anywhere. The highest I get off the ground is when I have to hop a little bit to reach the smoke alarm that goes off when dinner is ready.

The last time I flew, it was when my husband and I decided to take our New Hampshire-born toddler to meet her California kin. I was, of course, pregnant; there were, of course, major delays. And so our little family enjoyed the rare pleasure of unexpectedly spending Christmas eve sleeping on the floor of an airport while surly Santa-hatted flight attendants took out their job dissatisfaction on us. The baby screamed with an earache the whole time, I got just the teensiest bit hysterical, and the flight attendant is probably still in therapy over what we did to the bathroom. (She certainly got out of my husband’s way quickly when she saw what he was covered with, though.) Oh, and they lost our luggage. And car seat. And yelled at us. On Christmas.

So. I don’t fly. But many people have to. A reader recently brought up the topic of those horrible intrusive TSA searches, saying:

I feel it is 1) an extremely repellent idea to me to imagine myself in a situation where strangers would possibly be touching, repeatedly, my genitals and breasts, and 2) a matter of political protest to refuse to fly because of the ridiculous injustice of this requirement, in which women and children are subject to physical searches for no reason whatsoever.

I am curious to hear what other people think about this. My four sisters agree that they feel it violates their sense of modesty to be subject to such a thing, particularly—and this involves the skirt-wearing crowd—when TSA guidelines (I have heard) call for targeting women in long skirts specifically.

Is it important to your readers, do you think? Is it important enough to inconvenience themselves, to forgo certain trips, for example? If so, should those who forgo airplane travel be talking to the airline industry as well, in order to let them know of the money they are losing? And if it is not important enough to keep from traveling by air, then what is the reasoning?

These are good questions. It also occurred to me, though, that they’re not really specifically Catholic questions (unless it’s true that TSA agents target women in more modest dress; but I’m guessing that if they do, they’d be looking for Muslim-style clothing)—I mean, even the typical promiscuous American doesn’t want to be prodded nastily by a stranger in front of everyone.

It also occurred to me that people suffering these indignities are getting a tiny taste of what it feels like to be a religious person just about everywhere these days (albeit on a less tactile level): I mean, the magazine aisle in the supermarket is an assault to the eyes. The music in a typical mall probes your ears and mind offensively. And so on.

It’s just kind of funny that the whole world has been telling offended Catholics to “lighten up” or “don’t be a prude” when we complain about the indecent attack on our senses whenever we leave the house. Well, folks, now you know how it feels!

As a Catholic who values modesty, though, what are your thoughts? Have you changed your travel habits because of the search policies? Do we have some specific moral duty to complain or to refuse to comply? What do you think?