Piercings are a sore subject for me. I had to work (keep my room clean for several months) to get permission to get my ears pierced at 13. It was clearly a sign of privilege (and a tool for my parents to hold me under their thumbs). I reminded my father of this recently and he said, “I did not realize we made you keep your room clean. I guess we should have had you write a research paper on ear piercing.”
A piercing case in North Carolina is brewing after a 14-year-old high school student received yet another suspension for wearing a nose stud. This isn’t your average rebellious teenager, though. Ariana Iacono and her mother are members of a group called the Church of Body Modification.
The Johnston County school system has a dress code that prohibits facial piercings, and the American Civil Liberties Union has come out in favor of Iacono. Some of the obvious questions would focus on the Church of Body Modification, why do they encourage body piercing, and how would their focus on body piercings compare with other traditions and rituals, such as head coverings.
One of the better articles I’ve seen so far came from Tom Breen of the Associated Press, who spoke to Richard Ivey, the minister of the local Church of Body Modification.
Ivey describes the church as a non-theistic faith that draws people who see tattoos, piercings and other physical alterations as ways of experiencing the divine.
“We don’t worship the god of body modification or anything like that,” he said. “Our spirituality comes from what we choose to do ourselves. Through body modification, we can change how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about the world.”
The church claims roughly 3,500 members nationwide, having started about two years ago, after adopting the name of a similar group that had been dormant for several years.
Sarah Nagem of the News Observer looked at another court case involving the Church of Body Modification.
In 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed a $2 million religious discrimination lawsuit filed by a Massachusetts member of the Church of Body Modification. The woman sued retailer Costco when it fired her for refusing to remove or cover her eyebrow piercing.
Parker said that case can’t be compared to Ariana’s fight with the school system because it involves an employer.
“That’s a different situation than a student in a high school,” she said.
Are there any recent court cases that look at religious beliefs and education? Surely there are more religious freedom experts than the group with a direct interest in this case. Back to the AP, here’s another case:
In 1999, a federal court in North Carolina ruled that the Halifax County school system had violated such hybrid rights of Catherine Hicks and her great-grandson by forcing the boy to wear a school uniform.
Hicks’ religious beliefs held that uniformity is linked to the anti-Christ, a belief Halifax schools rejected. But the court ruled in her favor, and ordered the school system to include a religious exemption in its dress code policy.
Back to general questions about this religion, how does one join the Church of Body Modification, how often do they meet, what kinds of rituals do they participate in? Do people give money to the organization; if so, where does it go? There’s no need to write an entire article on the church, but a paragraph or two might give some context for this piercing case. Is anyone offering more thorough coverage?