March 14th, 2011
04:17 PM ET

Prayers spark scare on airplane

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

On Sunday, three Orthodox Jewish businessmen triggered fears on a flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles.

Passengers on Alaska Airlines Flight 241 became alarmed when the three men began to pray out loud. "Shortly after takeoff ... three passengers were praying out loud in a language other than Spanish," according to an airline spokeswoman.

"They had something that appeared to the flight attendants to be strapped under their clothing," the spokeswoman said. "The flight attendants alerted the flight deck, who in turn alerted the tower at LAX. Law enforcement met the plane upon arrival."

During weekday prayers, some Orthodox Jewish men wear teflillin, or phylacteries - black leather straps wrapped around the left arm and around the forehead. The straps are connected to small boxes with tiny scrolls containing Jewish scriptures. Many Orthodox Jewish men also wear a prayer shawl called a tallit under their clothes, with knotted fringes at each of the four corners.

The airline spokeswoman said she was unaware if the men were wearing either of these traditional items.

When the planed landed at LAX it was greeted by members of airport police, the FBI and Customs and Border Protection.

According to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller, the men were questioned and their baggage was searched before they were cleared to go.

"The men were extremely cooperative," Eimiller said.

Airport police Sgt. Belinda Nettles told CNN there was never any threat to passenger or aircraft safety.

CNN's Carol Cratty and Nick Valencia contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • California • Judaism • United States

soundoff (820 Responses)
  1. sleepytime

    Hahaha, more religious people who don't understand that there's a time and place for this kind of thing, and in other people's faces on other people's time isn't it.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  2. kevin in texas

    Sounds like people on the flight were not sufficiently groped and looked at naked. If everyone on the plane was seen naked by Janet Nap*litano and Ob*ma, then passengers would not have been alarmed. They would have known that nothing bad could happen to them whilst in the expert hands of the U.S. govt.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  3. Ian

    If I saw anyone on a plane praying aloud I would be scared as well. The most violent people with no regard for life are always religious.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  4. TRH

    If I were a terrorist wanting to blow up a plane (which btw is dumb...much more disruption/damage could more easily be accomplished by blowing up a terminal/church/school/playground/office building/grocery store/any "soft" target.) and I was willing to die in my efforts (as these people are), I'd have high explosives (which are reasonably available) inside me, with a detonator hooked up to my iPhone.

    So until they're doing full body cavity searches of EVERY passenger, and stripping EVERY passenget of every electronic device I call shenanegans. 100% of the "security" at airports is just a show. It's a fear mongering show to cower the masses into bahaving and believing that they're safe.

    Yeah, good thing they have everyone take their shoes and belts off, when a terrorist with the will to die for his cause could have a pound of plastic explosives where they aren't looking.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  5. lisa

    It has nothing to do with racism, terrorist or anything..but FEAR...everyone is scared to death a the drop of a hat now a days....9/11 was an inside job....while we sit on the coast of Libya, letting a civiil war go on..we are waiting to pounce to what?? GET the oil. Isreal is a sheep in wolves clothing...America is their puppet. They call the shots. Wake up people and smell The New World Order....

    March 15, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  6. ForFarkSakes

    Aaaaahhh.....the land of the free, home of the brave. What a joke. More like land of the fearful and home of the banal. The government has successfully instilled a fear of everything into the largely functionally illiterate American population. This society has for so long been so inward looking, that the lack of knowledge and understanding about anything other than McDonalds and Hollywood has made us completely dysfunctional in a global perspective. We allow the government to lie to us so that they can justify the erosion of our freedoms and make us more dependent on it's own miserable existence. A lot of people connected to the governmental structures are making a lot of money out of instilling fear and hatred into us on a daily basis.
    It's quite sad just how pathetic we have become.

    March 15, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  7. Chris

    Right. Because orthodox Jews are notorious for hijacking planes.

    March 15, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  8. lisa

    I am all for freedom of religion..anywhere anytime...but....don't you think common since would prevail these men to realize their actions, which were totally innocent, might alarm others...SINCE THEY WERE ON A PLANE???? At least they could have given the fight attendents a heads up..we are about to pray now, please don't be alarmed....I mean really...THINK...

    March 15, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  9. bman

    OK here's a suggestion you are only allowed to pray when the plane inexplicably takes a nose dive and you realize you're going down... Praying at any other time will result in you being tackled and bound by a bunch of vigilante passengers trying to make it into the next Neil Young song...

    March 15, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  10. Dada

    If only these men were Muslims praying Quranic verses, the news item would have read, "Terrorism suspect boarded off the plane". Not to mention, all these comments would be in support of the crew acting proactively and defending the lack of diversity training and ignorance of the crew, a fact common amongst the majority of their ilk.

    March 15, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • TheMovieFan

      Your posting needs a Like link.

      March 15, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  11. Zult1

    Another case of the government resources being wasted. Custom and Border Protection agency is a joke of an organization, all they do is hamper real business and leisure travelers while not doing anything substantial.

    March 15, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • maggie

      And if the flight crew had ignored it and something happened, no doubt you would be commenting about the opposite.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  12. Agha Ata (USA)

    Any country based on its people's religious beliefs, like Judeism and Islam, will always cause troubles in the world, even in a plane.

    March 15, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  13. Jesus

    Why are people upset the flight crew did'nt know about this custom ? not everyone person in the world knows every obscure aspect of a religion. I forgive them

    March 15, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Serious Man

      What would Jesus do? I can tell you with 100% certainty what Jesus did. Every weekday morning Jesus put on his phylacteries, so this is not a far out obscure custom.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  14. Jeff

    Notice how you do not see ANY Jewish groups screaming, yelling and complaining, as you do Muslim groups when one of theirs is mistakenly singled out. Wonder if the Muslims will ever get a clue...

    March 15, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I wonder if the American Public will ever get a clue. Al Quaeda won.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  15. Nick

    Please, people who comment on CNN or any other news site, do yourself and your country a favor by getting an education. These comments would become so much more productive and an intelligent conversation/debate could erupt. Hell, it could even lead to a better America.

    March 15, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • TheMovieFan

      An educated America? That would be a threat to those in power.

      March 15, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  16. mike

    It is the Muslims fault that people are paranoid of religious groups.

    March 15, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Neil

      Unlike, say, the Lords Resistance Army that have been recruiting child soldiers and massacring in the name of Jesus for the last 20 years. Or, Northern Ireland where different versions of christians have only recently stopped (mostly) killing each other.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Lance

      You hit the nail on the head with this comment! Well said!

      March 15, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  17. amused123

    time for body cavity searches.

    March 15, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  18. advocate

    The hate brewing in all these comments is more scary than a group of men praying on an airplane.

    March 15, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  19. chef dugan

    Prayer is a monumental waste of time. Another argument for doing away with organized religion. That would solve at least 90% of the world's problems and we would only have to deal with things like earthquakes.

    March 15, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • dugan idiot

      I pray you become less of an idiot. 90% indeed... Divine powers of estimation. Moron...

      March 15, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • DCBuckeye

      You're right. After all, warm, cuddly atheists like Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao, and Castro never caused the world any problems, did they?

      March 15, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • KeithTexas

      You are right, you can tell by the idiot Christian comments.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Dan

      @ chef dugan.. then i guess you represent a new religion. because clearly by definition you are not apart of the secular religions.. i repeat you are not apart of the secular religions by definition with your kind of mindset. so pardon the rest of us if we do not go along with your views. we are not as enlightened as you.. 90% of the worlds issues are due to the liberalism disease that has somehow penetrated to dangerous levels.. so it is safe to say your disorder is liberalism.. i wish you a safe and speedy recovery in getting over your illness..

      March 15, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Neil

      DCBuckeye, Hitler considered himself a good Catholic.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • JGalt

      @DCBuckeye You clearly don't understand how correlation works. Those individuals you named did not act the way they did because they were atheists. They actually did what they did under the guise of ultra nationalism and in Hitler's case, he was a big time theist. He regularly invoked the name of god in his speeches, the Nazi's wore belts that said "God is with us." The point is, ANY kind of dogma is is dangerous. Atheism is a silly word, it is NOT a religion. It is the combatting of bad ideas through the use of science.

      March 15, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • ygnabb

      Talking to an invisible man in the sky is not going to solve your problems. Doing something about them might.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • @DC Buckeye

      Hitler was a Christian and known to be into the occult, who was looking for bibical artifacts that he thought would give him supernatural powers. That isn't an atheist buddy, a true athest knows that their is nothing supernatural .

      March 15, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Bus2

      Prayer: literally the LEAST you can do to help...

      March 15, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Todd

      Shows what you know. Hitler was Catholic. One of his justifications for killing Jews was the miyth that Jews killed Jesus

      March 15, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • John Richardson

      90%???? See that. Every time you think that there's nothing stupider than a religgie, some danged atheist opens his mouth. And a call for "doing away" with any belief system is precisely the sort of attempt to spread faith by coercion that the worst of organized religions, as well as other forced faith systems like communism, are guilty of, to their infinite disgrace.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • John Richardson

      DC Buckeye got Hitler wrong, but the others were/are indeed all atheists, but shared with religions the idea that they had the fundamental truth and it was critically important that everyone under their power be forced to profess faith in that truth. In other words, they were atheists, but not secular.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • abli

      I feel sorry for you

      March 15, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Dan

      I agree with chef.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Fidel Castro and Stalin were Christians

      Fidel Castro was brought up a Christian and attended 12 years of a strict Christian School.
      Stalin, whose real name was Joseb Dzhugashvili was brought up in the Georgian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest of Christian churches. He aspired to be a priest, probably to please his mother, who sought this vocation for him, and, at the age of 15, he won a scholarship to a seminary in Tbilisi (or Tiflis), the capital of Georgia.
      Marx was also brought up as a devote Christian and thought that Capitalism was the enemy.
      Mao was brought up in a Budist family, but did become an Athesist.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • bill

      If you athiests can't think of any of your kind who've harmed the world, you're peddling the same crap you say the Christians are.

      March 15, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • markishere

      You are a monumental waste of time.

      March 15, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Nonimus

      Odd, I've never heard an Atheist say, "I do this for the praise, glory, and in the name of No One," or "I'm doing No One's work."

      March 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  20. BoyHowdie

    Terrorism works.... look how scared everyone is now by nothing.

    March 15, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • KeithTexas

      Fear and Hate are the easiest things to sell in the world. Our government is selling us fear and hate instead of taking care of our real problems. America will not wake up, they are too interested in Charlie Sheen

      March 15, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Traveller

      This is a pathetic situation. The cabin crew, obviously not well trained, should have figured this out before alerting the pilot and over reacting.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • maggie

      @Traveller - there are thousands of religions in the world that any flight crew, at any time can be exposed to. To say that they aren't adequately trained assumes that they are trained in the prayer habits of all of these religions, a virtual impossibility. The onus is also on the "praying public" to understand that given what we've been through, that some of their habits may unwittingly cause reason for concern in a zero tolerance environment. they couldn't have waited until they landed? And if not, they couldn't have prayed amongst themselves or quietly? They have to serenade an entire airplane?

      March 15, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Dave

      Republicanism relies on fear. Without terrorists they have only lies to further their agenda.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Linda

      The airlines did what they were trained to do – if they didn't understand what they saw, then you question it. The 3 men were cooperative which is GREAT! Unfortunately if they were any other minority group, this would have been a racist issue to the men.

      March 15, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • SAM

      Pretty soon they'll ban BREATHING

      March 15, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Chris

      @Linda I would have Loved to have seen video of it if they had started popping their hands to their chests and started shouting "It's because I'm Jewish! Aint It?"

      March 15, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • TheMovieFan

      Bingo, BoyHowdie!

      March 15, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • miranda

      @Maggie:Seeing as how Judaism is one of 3 major religions around the globe, along with Christianity and Islam, these attendants should have known better. All that time and money wasted, and lots of fear to spread around the plane.

      March 15, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Roger

      And yet Dave we live in a time of Democratic Purity. We just enjoyed 4 years of a Democratic Majority in the Congress and two years of a Democratic President so can can we accuse Republicans of using the fear of terrorism when it was our own dear Party the reauthorized the Patriot Act with even greater protections?

      We just unionized the TSA so shouldn't we feel safer?

      March 15, 2011 at 11:14 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.