A passenger noticed an American Airlines employee at Washington National airport offering a prayer over the PA system at one of the gates and videotaped it. They sent it to a friend who shared it to twitter with outrage. Although I don’t really see anything wrong with offering a prayer right now, it may even bring some comfort during difficult times.
Ummm excuse me, @AmericanAir? Care to explain why your agent at gate 38 at DC’s @Reagan_Airport (DCA) is reciting lengthy Christian prayers over the loudspeaker right now? So inappropriate, not okay. Insulting to ppl of other faiths/no faith at all. #shame #fail #ThursdayThoughts pic.twitter.com/kc1UpcTbhI
— (((John M. Becker))) (@freedom2marry) June 25, 2020
Naturally twitter responded like twitter to the notion.
It’s like religious terrorism.
— Michelle (mitsumeeshi) (@muppetgirl74) June 26, 2020
Now, Matthew 6:5 says that the purpose of prayer shouldn’t be to put oneself on display, but this isn’t a rejection of public prayer just the motives that some may have (condemning “the hypocrites”).
The employee’s colleagues may appreciate it and some passengers might also. There’s really no reason to be offended. There’s nothing exclusionary about what I saw on the video.
Now, I’m Jewish and I have memories as a child feeling strange walking into a church, like I was doing something wrong. I’m not sure where that feeling came from, though I outgrew it, and I’ve been a part of Catholic weddings. When other groomsman took communion, I simply crossed my arms to indicate to the priest that I wouldn’t take part, but that’s only because I didn’t want to disrespect the ritual as a non-believer. Others taking communion wasn’t a threat to me.
Airports Aren’t Prayer-Free Zones
The first airport chapels in the US were Catholic. They began to take off in the 1950s. The very first in the U.S. was at Boston Logan named “Our Lady of the Airways.” The second was at then-Idlewild (now JFK) in New York, “Our Lady of the Skies.” I often think of airport chapels serving mostly transient passengers but they serve airline and airport employees.
Religious services in airports aren’t limited to chapels. Chaplains pay a role when dead bodies are moved through airports. (People also die at airports, too.) Chaplains are often the ones to notify family members when someone dies inflight. This can happen with some frequency at the biggest hubs.
Airport police will also sometimes refer problems to the airport chaplain as an alternative to arrest. People behave better around religious figures.
Interestingly there’s no chapel in my home airport of Austin. There’s also no designated chapel space at Las Vegas (where they might need one most!), Los Angeles, or Philadelphia. Dallas Fort-Worth has five.
Alaska used to pass out prayer cards with meal trays. After 30 years Alaska Airlines ended the practice in 2012 (they started offering it only in first class in 2006, when they stopped providing meals in coach). The idea originally came from a marketing executive who brought the practice to Alaska from Continental.
But Doesn’t Christian Prayer Exclude Others?
Perhaps the strongest way this was put out on twitter was as follows:
Man, if a Muslim even ATTEMPTED this…
— Lurking in America (@LurkerinAmerica) June 25, 2020
Traveling while Muslim is a challenge in this country and we need to do something about that. I’m also not sure why that means Christian prayer shouldn’t be permitted.
The idea that a prayer from the Quran is foreign to aviation seems odd, every time I departed Etihad from the United States this is what played on the ground:
And more broadly the idea seems to be, why privilege Christianity? In fact, American Airlines has a Jewish employee group – Bridget Blaise-Shamai, who headed the AAdvantage program has served as its sponsor. (Her husband is Jewish, by the way several AAdvantage Presidents have been Jewish including Suzanne Rubin, Maya Leibman the airline’s current CIO, and Rob Friedman the current Chief Commercial Officer at Greyhound).
Airline chapels are interfaith, and some in the U.S. even do have Muslim prayer rooms, here’s one in an Etihad lounge.
Someone, Somewhere Finding Comfort Doesn’t Take Anything Away From You
I guess I have a hard time seeing the harm in an employee taking a moment to offer a prayer. And by the way I’m Jewish, this isn’t defending my own religion.
Half a million people at least have died from Covid, treatments remain limited, maybe we can give people a little bit of extra space right now to find comfort and try to be a little bit less offended that they’re able to.