Do we have a right to wear garments? If we do, how far does that right go? What , kind of right is it? Is it a human right? Or a legal one that might disappear and reappear as we pass national boundaries?
One of the people I home teach is currently being denied the opportunity to wear garments here in the United States, so I’m wondering if wearing garments is a human right, a kind of sub-sub-right or case study of the right to religious belief and expression. And if wearing garments is a right, how far does it go? Should I protest if someone other than Church authorities tries to keep me from wearing garments? Should I make enraged calls to my legislator, in whatever country I happen to live?
I hope it is clear that I’m not talking about some kind of right that supersedes Church authority. In my mind it is clear that the Church has a right to tell members when they can and can’t wear garments, and to discipline them when they don’t follow counsel. I suppose this isn’t much of an issue for most people.
What is more troubling to me is when a government or another outside force determines or tries to determine when and where a Church member can wear religious garments.
This has been an issue for the Church in the past. As I understand it, the U.S. military has had issues with garments worn by Mormons serving in the past, and both the Church and the military made concessions to reach an accommodation, resulting in garments manufactured for the use of those in the military. [Undoubtedly others know much more about this and can correct my understanding.]
While I haven’t heard anything about it, I assume at least some other countries have either not had any problems with Mormons wearing garments while serving in their armed forces, or reached some kind of compromise. [I recognize that other countries are still very unfamiliar with Mormonism or are unwilling to compromise and don't or wouldn't let LDS Church members in their armed services wear garments.]
Another area where wearing garments may be an issue involves prison, detention or other incarceration of some kind, where prisoners are often required to wear prison-issued clothing. While it is true that in most of these cases those incarcerated have committed a crime that is also a moral sin, leading Church leaders to ask them not to wear garments, it isn’t necessarily the case that incarceration means that they can’t or shouldn’t wear garments. Occasionally incarceration involves matters that aren’t a serious sin under Church teachings, or may not involve a crime exactly, such as when a journalist refuses to reveal sources, or when a member is morally opposed to a law. This was the case in the later 1800s, when many Church leaders served prison sentences for polygamy. There are really a host of possible, if often theoretical, reasons why a member might be incarcerated, but still be allowed by Church leaders to wear garments.
I believe that one form of incarceration where the right to wear garments is often an issue is increasing rapidly. The man I home teach is in this category. He has been detained because of his immigration status.
In general, the Church does not consider immigration issues serious enough to warrant any Church discipline by themselves. I assume that our experience here in New York is similar to most places around the country: illegal immigrants are baptized, given temple recommends and serve in any local calling except Bishop or Stake President. My friend, who I home teach, is a good example of this. He is a high priest and has served in two different bishoprics in the past decade.
It would be wrong to assume that this is only an issue in the United States. Many other areas of the world are also facing immigration problems and have laws and procedures that detain and incarcerate illegal immigrants, including much of Western Europe and South Africa, from what I’ve read. I’m sure there are other areas of the world also where immigration detention happens.
When my friend was taken into detention, all his clothing was taken from him, including his garments despite his protests that they are religious clothing. He was given the standard clothing provided to all detainees, and those who run the facility have so far shown little interest in addressing the issue informally.
[The situation in detention is not at all what I had assumed before my friend was detained. I has assumed that detention was like what I had heard of the internment camps where Japanese-Americans were held during World War II. As bad as that was, they were not housed like prisoners. Immigration detainees today are treated just like prisoners in the general population, despite the fact that most haven't done anything violent at all -- they simply overstayed their visas in many cases. I'm told that the average detainee is incarcerated in the U.S. for five months.]
For what its worth, the standards under which this facility is supposed to be run do suggest that garments should be permitted, just like “prayer shawls and robes, kurda or ribbon shirts, … kufis, yarmulkes, turbans, crowns, and headbands, as well as scarves and head wraps.” At this point, I assume that the problem is mostly ignorance of Mormon beliefs rather than a decision that wearing garments will somehow adversely affect the safety of the facility or the ability to keep the detainees in the facility. So our ward and stake are trying to work through the facility and government procedures necessary to have garments recognized as religious clothing that detainees should be permitted to wear.
So all of this makes me wonder: how far does the right to wear garments go? If a member has a valid temple recommend, doesn’t that member have a right to wear garments in most, if not all circumstances? Aside from the member’s judgement to not where garments where they may be ridiculed, and the Church’s advice to members regarding when and how to wear garments, are there any restrictions?
[By the way, I should apologize for my absence during the past month or so due to work pressures and a protracted battle with a bad hard drive.]