Religious Profiling. What's your opinion?
According to AP, the City of Los Angeles Police Department has begun work on a plan to map the City's Muslim Communities. Read the story here. Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing is on the record stating that this program will help determine which parts of the city (which people) are susceptible to "violent, ideologically based extremism." "We want to know where the Pakistanis, Iranians and Chechens are so we can reach out to those communities," said Downing, who heads the counterterrorism bureau.
Now, regardless of what you believe Mr. Downing to mean when he says "reach out to those communities," there's a bigger question here. The majority of Americans believe that profiling based on age, race, or gender is wrong, but what about religion? We are born into our gender and race, and we have no control over our age. Religion, however, is a different matter.
We atheists must be careful of this issue. I admit that my gut reaction to this story was that profiling based on religion is not necessarily bad. After all, it's safe to say that very few Scientologists bomb abortion clinics, and precious few Amish take flying lessons for terrorist attacks. We can effectively isolate entire segments of the population based solely on their religion, and have virtual certainty that future crimes stemming from that religion will be committed only by people in that group. Add to that the notion that religion is a choice, and you have a very strong case for religious profiling. Unfortunately, many of the atheists on this very site have stood behind me and other RRS writers when we've opined at length that the biggest danger of religion is that when it's indoctrinated early in childhood, it becomes like a mental disorder, and people are not really free to leave. That's why we fight it, right? That's why Dawkins is so vehemently opposed to labeling children by their parents' religion.
If I stand behind religious profiling, I must provide enough evidence that it is different from racial, gender, or age profiling. The biggest difference I can see is that religion is not something we acquire at birth. It is ostensibly something we choose. Yet, we have an incredible amount of data suggesting that defection to either atheism or another competing religion is very, very uncommon if the religion has been practiced since early childhood. So, what is the answer?
Should law enforcement use religious profiling to help them find criminals?
Should they use it to try to prevent crime?
Is religious profiling different from age, gender, or race profiling?