A woman was forced to remove her “Hail Satan” t-shirt on an American Airlines flight from Miami to Las Vegas. Was this appropriate or another case of a flight attendant going too far in policing wardrobes?
Swati Runi Goyal took her seat on an American Airlines flight wearing a black t-shirt. It included the text “Hail Satan” in all capital letters along with an upside down cross and the words “Est. 666”.
Prior to takeoff, a flight attendant approached her and asked her to come forward. This wasn’t a first class upgrade…instead, the FA said Goyal would either need to change shirts or get off the aircraft.
Goyal is a member of the Satanic Temple, a “religious” organization that does not actually worship Satan. Rather, it focuses on separation of church and state and free speech.
Speaking to BuzzFeed, Goyal said:
“It’s an ironic shirt. People usually laugh at it, or they give me a thumbs up because they understand the meaning behind it.”
But not on this particular AA flight. Per Goyal, the crewmember claimed the entire crew found her shirt to be offensive. She added:
“We initially just thought it was a joke. But he repeated the directive, and there was another female crew member who was behind him with her arms crossed looking very angry.”
An argument ensued. At first Goyal refused to remove or cover her shirt. But the crew insisted and brought ground staff onboard, who backed them up.
By this point, Goyal was incredulous:
“I said, ‘I’m a foreign-born minority woman, I understand ‘offensive,’ and this shirt is not offensive.’”
But she complied. Her husband, sitting next to her, was wearing two layers and gave her an outer garment to cover the “Hail Satan” shirt.
American Airlines Apologizes
The incident happened on October 30th but has only been made public now after Goyal felt American Airlines failed to take her post-flight request to investigate seriously.
Goyal is afraid that AA’s policy may target Muslims.
“I think the group that could be most targeted by this are Muslim people, for obvious reasons. I’m an atheist, but I support people’s rights to practice what they believe peacefully.”
As I’ve written about before, AA’s nebulous dress code policy states:
Dress appropriately; bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed.
She wants AA to clarify what “offensive” means.
Meanwhile, AA has apologized for what happened, saying:
“We apologize to Ms. Goyal for her experience, and we are reaching out to her to understand what occurred.”
It also added on Twitter:
Discrimination has no place at American Airlines. Please meet us in DMs with your record locator and contact info.
— American Airlines (@AmericanAir) December 6, 2019
In September, I wrote about Aubrey O’Day being forced to remove a shirt on American Airlines flight that included the f-word on it. Many were outraged since the shirt seemed to be expressing political speech, while others were outraged that anyone could be so inconsiderate as to wear a shirt like that on the plane.
I don’t like rude shirts of any stripe. But sometimes a line is crossed, like those from the Westboro Baptist Church. Sometimes shirts just make others feel uncomfortable.
Was Goyal’s shirt offensive to many? Absolutely. Should she have been forced to change? I tend to think not…her political intentions seem clear enough to me and her shirt did not incite hate or violence.
But any notion that “Hail Satan” is a deeply-held religious conviction equivalent to “Hail Jesus” or “Hail Muhammad” is simply not the case.
Goyal herself told BuzzFeed that she does not really worship Satan, adding:
“I’m just an ordinary-looking person. I’m not goth. I don’t have piercings. I wasn’t wearing a shirt that had a goat being beheaded on it.
I was wearing L.L.Bean hiking pants and vegan sneakers…I mean, I couldn’t look like more of a nerd.”
Does the fact that this was not a sincere religious belief render it any less worthy of protection?
Those offended by Goyal’s shirt should just pray for her. Forcing her to remove a shirt that is not vulgar and does not incite violence undermines their own rights to express their faith in the public square. Even though Goyal’s shirt was intended to mock, her stated policy objective of “free speech and religious freedom” should be music to the ears of the faithful.
I think American Airlines was right to apologize to Ms. Goyal. I also find her shirt sad…but hardly offensive. Now AA should better clarify what “offensive” means in its dress code policy to prevent more arbitrary action by flight attendants.