Saturday, February 16, 2008

Religion in action - up to the rest of us to foot the bill ...

Interesting story in Canada. A Sikh motorbike rider insists to ride his machine without wearing a helmet. Fair enough: you may or may not know that Sikh religion requires that the guys don't ever cut their hair (at least they're permitted to continue to cut their toe nails, otherwise we'd have a real problem). Anyway, those masses of hair need to be kept somewhere, and Sikhs have usually truly nicely tied turbans that hold it all together. None of this is really an issue, as all of this is entirely a self-regarding action. It's up to you to decide not to cut your hair and keep it under a pile of cloth.

The trouble really lies elsewhere: Sikh religion seemingly also requires that cloth and nothing else covers the ever-growing hair mass. For some reason some Sikhs at least think it's a cool idea to ride motorbikes without a helmet. It goes without saying that while their huge quantity of hair might protect ever so slightly against accident related injuries, a helmet is a way better protection (that is, if you must ride a motorbike at all - a fairly questionable high-risk activity at the best of times). It is for that reason that we require motorbike riders to wear helmets.

Thank goodness there's human rights protections that protect religious folks against 'discrimination'. The 'discrimination' in the case under consideration is that the guy in question doesn't want to wear a helmet.

To my mind, none of this really should be an issue as this motorbike devotee is sane (well, as sane as people are who think it's cool to operate such machines to begin with), understands the risks and is willing to take them. I guess in any liberal society this should trigger a negative-liberty entitlement type response of non-interference.

The problem really lies elsewhere: if the guy crashes his motorbike in some accident or other (due to his fault or that of someone else), and he ends up with preventable brain injuries that require life-long medical care for him, he clearly expects others to pick up the tab for him. This is where his religiously driven recklessness ceases to be exclusively self-regarding and turns into a serious other-affecting business. The solution seems to be that he ought to be required to take out private health insurance that covers him for these sorts of eventualities. That failing, his license should simply be withdrawn as a matter of principle, until he agrees to wear a helmet just like everyone else. It goes without saying, however, that our religious motorbike fan expects to have his cake and eat it. It would be fairly foolish of society to accede to that demand, whether under the human rights guise or any other excuse.

It gets more complicated. Let's assume, for the sake of the argument, that our motorbiking friend is not reproductively challenged (say, because he's infertile, gay or whatever). There's a fair chance that he might already have produced male off-spring. What would be the appropriate state response should he decide to take his underage boy for a ride on the back of his bike? Almost certainly the boy would also have a fair few meters of hair under his turban and probably also would be prohibited by the religion to wear a helmet. Are we really saying that religious provisions supersede the state's responsibilities toward safeguarding the child? Surely this would be completely unacceptable as the father's actions then would become other regarding (ie harmful to the child). It would seem then that (like in the case of Jehova's Witnesses) dad may go without helmet, but his kid must not.

End of story, let's find him someone a private insurance and get on with it.

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