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Old 04-19-2006, 09:43 AM   #95
Dojo: Sand Drift Aikikai, Cocoa Florida
Location: Melbourne, Florida
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 824
Re: Religious Restrictions on Training

I guess it could only be religious discrimination against the dojo if the dojo practices aikido as a religion. In that case, the sensei would have an obligation to inform that student that we practice aikido in a religious manner. The basis of the allowance is not on the fact that they say that they are Muslims because many Muslims do not subscribe to such an orthodox practice. But it is because they practice a more orthodox form of Islam. A good comparison would be Orthodox Jews and certain sects of fundamentalist Christians. We have a couple of other Muslim men in our dojo who train with women, and one of these men is one of our highest ranking members and is a senior instructor. In our case, we have in our dojo we have one man how has submitted to this practice, and it has not been problem with him not training with a woman on the mat. A simple explanation is all that is needed because it's not "just because she's a woman" but "because of his particular religious beliefs." (Remember, the reverse is true for a woman who submits to this same practice.)

Also, there is an obligation for a non-profit organization to not discriminate based on religion, race, gender and nationality in order for the non-profit to maintain their non-profit status. But depending on the law and interpretation of the law, it may or may not be legal. Legally, the non-profit needs to apply the rules of dojo across the board. Remember, a couple of years ago some parents were suing a Judo Club because they didn't want their children bowing at competitions. The court ruled that bowing is part of the practice judo as it is a Japanese Martial Art and as such bowing is one of those elements that make up the practice of Judo. So the couple lost their case. (However, I think a very good attorney and a sympathetic judge could turn the judgment around.)

In this situation it could be the same thing, it would not be discriminatory if you have a non-discriminatory reason for your practice, especially if there are other alternatives available.

However, in our dojo we could be suspect to discrimination laws and first amendment laws. First, we train in a City of Fort Lauderdale building and that could be interpreted as "state action." Second, we could be pulled into court under the commerce clause as we often hold seminars where people travel across state lines and international boundaries. Third, members are told that can choose not to train with certain people if they are having a problem with a particular person. (If we allow this reason which is usually a personality conflict, then we will could be held accountable if it didn't allow someone to choose not to train with someone for religious reasons.)

But, just because something might be legally right does not mean something is morally right. Would it be more compassionate to allow the person to train assuming that your dojo is large enough that it wouldn't affect the training of the other students in the dojo? Wouldn't it be more in the spirit of harmony to attempt to include the person the best you can so they, too, can enjoy the practice of Aikido? Given the current strain of our country's relationship with the Islamic community, wouldn't it be better to demonstrate compassion than to turn them away saying that "everyone MUST train with everyone." If that was the case then, you also don't have the option to stop training with an abusive partner/ or someone who is being unduly harsh in their training with you. Because if you allow this distinction then you might legally be up the proverbial creek without the proverbial paddle.

But in the end, my sensei's decision really doesn't concern the legalities of the matter, but just the compassionate nature of aikido. He wants to make it available to as many people as he can, and as one of the leaders of the USAF I think he sets a good example.

(P.S. Yamada Sensei did something similar years ago and now there is Aikido in Morocco.)

Anne Marie Giri
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