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. Lewis

    They really would have freaked out if a Pentacostal (Christian) had started speaking in toungs !

    March 14, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  2. Voice of Reason

    Patrol should have given those orthodox Jews a job if they're that scary to Mexicans entering the country!

    March 14, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  3. JJ

    @rs1201 What goes around, comes around, it's what the Israelis get for murdering several hundred children and toddlers in Gaza. Deal with it.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      The Israelis did not murder several hundred children and toddlers in Gaza. Deal with it.

      March 15, 2011 at 3:39 am |
  4. gayfocker

    Great – here is the holy war you expect to see get started on a cnn blog! Darn the torpedoes!

    March 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  5. StandUp

    I have been visiting the comments section often lately and more than anything, have been struck by the remarkable lack of civil and productive discourse. I hope my post does not elicit another such trash-lobbing contest.
    I want everyone here to think for a second about the muslim men who were arrested at the Twin Cities airport because they said their prayers at the gate – they were delayed, arrested, questioned not ON the plane but even BEFORE they got on it. This is a moment for introspection – are we encouraging radicalization by differential treatment in our actions, news, views? Would those of you speaking up against law enforcement actions at LAX have spoken up as forcefully then? Why? Is it because they are children of a lesser G_d?

    March 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  6. bobbybrown


    March 14, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  7. JennyTX

    Religions are not only silly, they can be dangerous.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  8. PAUL

    Do people really need to pray out loud on a airplane or transportation ? why did they not pray before boarding ? i thought most airports had prayer rooms, there is such a thing as respecting the rights of other passengers.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  9. Red Cedar

    First we had the crime of "driving while black", and now we have the crime of "flying while religious". Or was the crime in this case "praying on a flight to L.A. in a language other than Spanish"? Jesus Christ, what's next?

    March 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Snape

      The difference is that you cannot choose to be black, but you can choose to be religious. Major difference.

      March 15, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  10. gayfocker

    Mexico city does NOT let 4 jewish bombers on planes! Listen- they have great security down there for inbound us flights. What should not be allowed or tolerated is everyone's darn religious needs. As a nation we need to stop being so accomodating. Express your freedoms in a park, in your home, infront of the statehouse – but leave if OFF the fraking planes! Gah!!

    March 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  11. bubbagump

    buncha wierdo's. Its common sense that this will set off some alarms for a section of the population. Sit there, shut up, watch a movie, and wait to do that on your own time. Religion is linked to the violence we saw and continue to see around the world, this is why it was a problem.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  12. Neotne

    The prayer ritual should have been conducted before boarding the plane or after reaching their destination. Very poor judgement on their part to do it on the flight. The airline was correct in their handling of the situation.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  13. E

    See how things work when you have understanding people? If these passengers were muslims, would they have been extemely cooperative? My gut tells me no. If you love your country and care about people, you don't mind being inconvenienced to make others feel safe. If 19 men that looked like me flew planes into buildings, then I would understand and cooperate also. Liberal media needs to stop calling on these things and realize that certain racial profiling is common sense. Got that?

    March 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  14. Luggages

    Jesus. H. Christ, so now people can't pray on a plane? It's not like they were making everyone else pray with them.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • db

      Your offensive attack on my Savior lets me know how culturally insensitive you are. That's part of the problem when haters speak out without being thoughtful or intentionally being just plain mean.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Thugliest

      Don't worry DB, there is no saviour. It's a big lie...BTW, please pass the collection plate.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Julie Chang

      I think Jesus' middle initial is F (as is Jesus F Christ).

      March 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  15. Dakota

    I just dont understand why people cant just ask to step aside ot searched on a plane, to much drama over what seemed to look like very jewish men

    March 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  16. RMAnderson

    See......now people can see how creepy it is to have someone pray in a foreign language in public and nearly start a panic. Its not just Americans worried about what some Muslim group praying in public/on a plane may be planning! Even Mexicans on a place freak out when Jewish people pray in Hebrew!

    March 14, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Yeh we should just send Orthodox Jews to the Mexican border to pray if they're that scary. I'm sure the cartels will run the other way. They don't want a piece of those black hatted dudes. Scary as hell!

      March 14, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  17. Chas

    According to the article, they were speaking in unison, in a language other than Spanish, and appeared to have something under their street clothes. This makes me want to ask – If a devout group of catholic nuns, wearing habits, were to cross themselves and pray in unison in Latin, would this crew have taken the same action? .

    March 14, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Probably. These are not the brightest apples in the bunch.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Jesus

      Methinks that the average person is really concerned about deeply religious types. With such religion (as we have seen) comes insanity.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  18. Guest

    i probably would have thought it was amusing myself to see. but they seriously do need to have more common sense. maybe they could have had the stewardess make an announcement or something that they were praying so passengers didn't freak out. being culturally aware goes two ways. they need to understand most americans don't know what they're up to. i wouldn't go to iraq are start saying the holy mary in the street.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • rs1201

      this is America sweetie...Jews...orthodox Jews have been a fixture in this country since the pilgrims arrived. Any American who is not aware of the Jewish prayer shawl...the Talith...and the rest of the stuff used in prayer is a bit of an ignoramus. Orthodox Jews are hardly known to cause any harm to anyone...they're usually the ones to be harassed and taunted...SHAME ON THOSE PASSENGERS AND ON THAT AIRLINE...AS WELL AS THE GROUND AUTHORITIES WHO MET THEM...WHAT A BUNCH OF MORONS.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • cspine

      I would freak out too if I was on that flight and heard them chanting things. They should let the passangers know what they are doing before they do it. If you deside to come to this country from another country not everybody knows about your religion and you need to let others know before you start your chanting etc.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • itsasecret121

      Personally I am glad the passengers said something to the airline and the airline took the proper steps as did the airport authorities... everything worked like it should work. Unfortunately in the world we live in we have to put up with a little inconvenience to do anything with some safety. These men were polite and knew what was happening. If the next waive of terrorist are while women with brown hair of my age who act strangely... I am going to expect that if I act outside the norm on an airplane I might get questioned by authorities. These guys new being from the same region and chant in Hebrew that they could easily be mistaken for a radical Muslim... this is why they did go out and find a lawyer already.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  19. Voice of Reason

    Luck they landed in LAX of all places, where it was at least possible someone knew something about world cultures. You won't exactly see anyone fr
    Alaskan Airlines on Jeopardy any time
    Soon. They'd be lucky if they could make more sense than a 4th grader.

    March 14, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  20. Praying4SafeTravels

    This is insane. Now I will grant you, the Orthodox men should probably have made the flight staff aware they were going to say the traditional prayer for a safe journey before donning their tefilin BUT to over-react to such a degree is ridiculous. This is the bigotry of the modern day. If these had been nuns or priests uttering the rosary no one would have said boo. If you don't know about something you apparently should be fearful of it. Is that what we are teaching our kids? This is the prayer you say when boarding a flight, a boat, or even taking a long car ride, asking G-d to protect you and your fellow travelers on your journey. Long and dangerous journeys are something Jews have a bit of historical experience with, don't you think?

    March 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • JS

      Let me just say something...I've been on flights when these Orthodox guys start praying...it's loud and obstructive and annoying...and I'm half Jewish! I'm all for people's rights to practice their religion but what about the other passengers right to a calm quiet flight in enclosed areas? This was an overreaction, but prayers can wait for an hour or two...

      March 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Sgt. Joe

      Agree with JS on this one. No one else needs to hear your praying...pray silently if you must. Yes, they may have over reacted and that's another story, but keep the praying to yourselves; don't care what religion you are.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Mao

      So much for freedom of religious expression. Ignorance causes fear. A lack of belief that prayers work causes annoyance. These guys were trying to do something nice and they get chastised here even by their own on here.
      These guys aren't afraid to express their religion. They've got courage more than other religious people I know and apparently see on here.

      March 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • mycatsbreathsmellslikecatfood

      guilty until proven innocent, right?

      March 14, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Jesus

      They should have warned the flight attendant that they were going to pray to that invisible and imaginary guy in the sky. The flight attendant then could have told the rest of the passengers that these orthodox Jewish folk were merely practicing their faith.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Ben

      I'm surprised that airline employees have never been trained about this. I'm sad that people would want to restrict their ability to pray out loud, as christianity has in more modern times been shoved down the throats of all those in America. Theres no escaping Christmas, the holy music you hear in stores, people handing out jesus saves fliers, and the singing if God Bless America at every baseball and football game halftime in the last 10 years. Unfortunately that all falls under the guise of 'free speech' so if we are to say that members of the Westboro Baptist Church have the right to interfere with the funerals of Americas servicemen and women, then some Orthodox Jews have every right to pray on a plane in the same manner that their ancestors have prayed for longer than this amazing free country of the USA has been around.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • JC

      Hey "JS" what is with "when these Orthodox guys ". Being half Jewish you are an a- – and stupid.

      March 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
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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.