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Citing Modesty, Two Women Refuse Full-Body Scans

Mar 8 2010
Pope Benedict and Muslim scholars have warned that the scanner—slated for major U.S. airports—violate principles of human dignity and chastity.

Two Muslim women boarding a plane in Manchester, England, last week became trailblazers in the debate over full-body scanners by refusing to undergo the scan, citing religious and medical restrictions. They forfeited their £400 airline tickets to Pakistan, as such scans became compulsory in the UK in February. The women are the first known passengers to refuse a scan under the new rule. Muslim scholars in the U.S. have already issued a fatwa against full-body scans as a violation of Islamic teaching on modesty.

More airports worldwide are installing full-body scanners after the Christmas Day bombing attempt by a Muslim Nigerian carrying explosives in his underwear on a Detroit-bound flight. The first round of 150 full-body scanners slated for major U.S. airports are being installed today in Boston's Logan International Airport.

The Times (UK) reports that full-body scans give security staff detailed images of passengers' nude bodies, which human rights groups decry as a "virtual strip search." According to the Associated Press, the images are viewed in a private room and conceal passengers' faces to protect identity. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has assured passengers that the scans are optional and that images are deleted. (This may not be true outside the U.S.; GetReligion's Mollie Ziegler Hemingway notes that one Indian celebrity has already said he received printed images of his nude body at Heathrow.)

All these assurances may not be enough to protect passengers' dignity, said Pope Benedict XVI at a meeting with airline staff February 20. "It is essential never to lose sight of respect for the primacy of the person," he said. While he acknowledged this would be challenging given "the economic crisis, which is bringing about problematic effects in the civil aviation sector, and the threat of international terrorism, which is targeting airports and aircraft," the Pope urged that "the primary asset to be safeguarded and treasured is the person, in his or her integrity."

At the Chicago Tribune's Seeker blog, Sister Anne Flanagan said her own objections to the scans stem from Catholics' sacramental view of the body, one that says it reveals spiritual truths about God's created intent for human sexuality and relationships. The sacramental view, expressed in Pope John Paul II's magnum opus, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, holds that the body is not a mere receptacle for the soul. Sister Flanagan explains:

It is not true that our body is just a sort of envelope for a sexlessly generic soul, or that it is a strange animal-like appendage to the "important," spiritual part, but that really doesn't matter in itself …. We ought to be alert to the tremendous significance of being "bodied persons": God became incarnate so he could relate to us in this very human way!

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Citing Modesty, Two Women Refuse Full-Body Scans