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. blessedgeek

    שמע ישראל יי אלהינו יי אחד

    Deuteronomy 6

    1. Now these are the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, which the LORD your Gd commanded, to teach you that you might do them in the land into which you will cross to possess it

    2. that you might fear the LORD your Gd, to keep all His statutes and His commandments, which I command you, you and your son, and your son's son, all the days of your life and that your days may be prolonged.

    3. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it that it may be well with you, and that you may increase mightily, as the LORD, the Gd of your fathers, has promised you a land flowing with milk and honey.

    4. Hear, O Israel the LORD our Gd, the LORD is one.

    5. And you shall love the LORD your Gd with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

    6. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart.

    7. and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when your walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.

    8. And you shall BIND them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for front-lets BETWEEN YOUR EYES.

    9. And you shall write them upon the door-posts of your house, and upon your gates.

    10. And it shall be, when the LORD your Gd shall bring you into the land which He swore unto your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you great and goodly cities, which you did not build,

    11. and houses full of all that is good, which you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out, which your did not hew, vineyards and olive-trees, which your did not plant, and you shall eat and be satisfied

    12. then beware lest you forget the LORD, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

    13. you shall fear the LORD your Gd; and Him shall you serve, and by His name shall you swear.

    14. you shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the peoples that are round about you.

    15. for a jealous Gd is the LORD your Gd in the midst of you, lest the anger of the LORD your Gd be kindled against you, and He destroys you from off the face of the earth.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • sophistocat

      take the Blue Pill on Mondays , the Yellow one Tuesday ,Green on Wednesday and GET HELP !!

      March 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • purplepuppy

      there are 613 such instructions in Torah

      March 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  2. richard

    Right on!! Fully agree

    March 14, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  3. common sense

    Freedom of speech ends just short of yelling fire in a public movie theater and praying out load in an
    airplane cabin. Inciting fear and a riot is not freedom of speech. Please use some common sense and
    pray to yourself or outside the airport terminal.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • whatguy

      Actually, it stops short of what a reasonable person would believe would/should incite a panic. I don't believe that a prayer (no matter the religion) should incite a panic. Now, if one of them got up and made a threatening move towards the flight deck, that is a different story, but a prayer, nope. I would reasonably assume I could pray, in silence or out loud, on a plane and people wouldn't panic and might even understand that I am worried about our journey and praying that we all arrive safely, no matter what religion they choose to believe, or if they choose to believe in one at all.

      March 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  4. David

    Mexicans are sooo stupid. LOL.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • sophistocat

      Americans are TOTAL MORONS ..see Collateral Murder ...Further PROOF ....

      March 14, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  5. richard

    Uhh I would be scared 2??? Why would anyone not be at least a little bit concerned? As soon as we become desensitized to possible threats, we have forgot about 911 and it will happen again. Wake up ppl, no one is being racist.. They are being cautious

    March 14, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • whatguy

      Would you be scared if the Dalai Lama got on your plane in traditional Tibetan garb and began to pray in a non-english (or in this case non-spanish) language? Orthodox Jews were a very distinct traditional garb. I would any who know this, or who know that terrorists not wanting to get caught usually dress to blend in, would not be overly concerned about some prayer in hebrew when they see Orthodox Jews in traditional dress.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  6. Now go in peace

    What reading this article and the postings showed me is that some people hold on to a LOT of hatred and anger in their hearts. If that is you just pray to God that he helps you with that because I know hate is a heavy burden on a person. Lord help us to be forgiving and love others as you have loved us. In Jesus name!! Amen

    March 14, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  7. rob

    Oh Jesus H. Christ, people. Try to pull together some semblance of sanity here.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • sophistocat

      there is none , SEE collateral murder ..on U-tube ...it EXPLAINS sanity..

      March 14, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  8. Benji

    i personally can say that being a conservative jew, when my youth group would travel on planes, and during a time that would conflict with prayer, we abstain. however does anyone else find it funny that there was not a single other jew nearby to just let a flight attendant know "hey, theyre jewish chill"

    March 14, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  9. MK

    I am shocked and saddened by the anti-semitic remarks that so many people have made. I live in a culturally diverse area of the country and I didn't realize how ignorant people are. I can't even believe what people wrote, it is so sad.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  10. Barry

    Don't the airlines learn – exactly the same thing happened a few months ago with another passenger on another airline. What's so scarey is that the airline security is so lax that the crew don't follow the news. What else do they forget?

    March 14, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  11. Sad

    What a sad day it is when we're met by airport security for praying to God. This country is in big trouble. It's good they observed something, but know what it is you're reporting before hitting the panic button. Bin laden has already won if this is how we react.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • sophistocat

      Know what CIVIL BEHAVIOR is ? Keep your chitt religion to yourself ....

      March 14, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • whatguy

      sophistocat, where do you get off limiting the rights of others for the preference of you? There is no guarantee that no one will pray near you when you leave your house, even *gasp* on an airplane or near your child in school. Stop being so closed minded and realize that people out there might actually think differently than you, and they are not out of line, horrible people, criminals, etc for doing so. So get over yourself, take a deep breath, realize that we all think/believe a little differently, and feel the peace that comes with not getting stressed out because the guy 3 rows over has a shirt on that talks about Jesus or has in some other way that doesn't interfere with your rights made their religion known.

      Now, if their religious belief is that they must sacrifice you to appease some random force or god, by all means complain and ask for their beliefs to be stopped, but in that case you may want to run away before doing that.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • saresudog

      Sad, it's because many of us have realized how ridiculous and delusional it is to believe in something organized in the dark ages. We'd like to welcome you to the 21st century where we all try to live in the here and now, all the while believing in the journey and not some crazy destination.

      March 14, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  12. Kidada

    Why are people surprised? Is it only ok if it's Arabs or Muslims?

    March 14, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  13. ed Bailey

    Never thought aboput this one. How dopes a devout Muslim know which way mecca is in a plane???? Carry a compass said one of the three wise men!!!!

    March 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Kidada

      Even though that's the case there's no fault if you pray the wrong direction if you had no way of knowing the right way.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • whatguy

      I assume they would have the logical idea of asking the flight attendant which direction the plane was pointing, (as on an east west trip they may be pointing NE/SE or NW/SW etc) and then use their common knowledge of left and right of that general heading to face in an estimated correct direction. I am sure being off by a few degrees will not land them in major religious issues, after all in a faith based system, the faith and belief you are following the doctrine is all that is needed right?

      March 14, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  14. P

    I'm a devout Christian, but I won't lie I would be crapping my pants if I was on that airplane and heard that. Anyone on here who argues otherwise is a liar.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
    • Kidada

      You may not be familiar with other religions prayers but you can't say that everyone would have been scared because you would be.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Well, you'd best wear your Attends then.
      Personally, I know the difference between Hebrew and Arabic.
      And Orthodox Jews wear distinctive clothing during prayer.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Alex

      I thought devout Christians weren't supposed to be afraid of death.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Eric

      P – If you are a devout Christian and you say that, then you are contradicting yourself. If you looked at your old testament, you would know exactly what they were doing. Sheesh.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • whatguy

      I am kind of with Wzrd1 on this, even if you don't know he difference between hebrew and arabic (pretty different languages, but not everyone can tell) orthodox jews dress in a very specific and unique way, not anything traditional arabic garb or the western clothing that we wear and most terrorists use to blend in on planes etc. Hearing Hebrew and seeing the garb, one should realize that it is a group of Jews and not worry about the hijacking, as they wouldn't spend the money needed on the tools... wait. sorry bad comedic stereotyping there. 😛

      March 14, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  15. heatheroh

    how sad.

    March 14, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  16. Forreal89

    911 scared a ton of people these people that feel their prayers are so important cancel your flight or sit down and shut up

    March 14, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Forreal, you're ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.
      Run your mouth again, go to the camps.
      You no longer have the right to speak, pray, not be arrested at random, not have your property taken, not permitted a free press, not allowed to remain silent when questioned, you are REQUIRED TO ANSWER ALL QUESTIONS OR GO TO THE CAMPS. You are no longer free, you may be sent to the camps at any time. Some will be treated in preference to you, as you are chattel.
      That is what you want, right? Welcome to Forreal's USSA!

      March 14, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Alex

      Maybe they're just as scared and that's why they prayed.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • whatguy

      Good point by Alex, many people who are deeply religious (and orthodox Jews very much are), see times of fear and stress as well as times of happiness and tranquility to be times to pray. In the first case it is for happiness and tranquility (as well as safety, etc) and in the latter it is for granting them those moments of happiness and tranquility, and it is and should be their right to do so without being harassed by others for it.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  17. gayfocker

    Hi- I think people confuse the term 'freedom of religion' when they should take opportunity to practice their religion freely, without infringing on the rights of others! Sit down- shuddup – on the planes already!

    March 14, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • GB

      And you control your unnatural disgusting urges for satisfying your base instincts.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • sophistocat

      Really there is no Law needed ,Just a little ordinary COMMON SENSE , no wonder these people are ... well you know ...

      March 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • Yavva

      Exactly. Say your prayers silently. Since there is no god, there should be no concern as to whether they are loud enough.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • saresudog

      Can't God read your mind and know what you're gonna say anyway? Would all you religious zealots feel the same about expressing yourself if a devil worshiper got on the plane and started praying to the devil out loud. Freedom of religion means freedom and tolerance of ALL religions, not just your fairy tale belief. You would want the devil worshiper to keep it to themselves, so have some common sense and keep yours to yourself as well. Otherwise you're just showing off.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • whatguy

      saresudog, unless the devil worshiper's belief he was expressing was that I or anyone else around me should die, I wouldn't care. I may not agree with his religion, just as I don't agree with most of them, but I will verbally defend until my last breath and keystroke his right to believe what he wants, short of doing harm to others. Because honestly, you are right, it is not just the nice happy religions who's faithful have the right to believe. So if he/she sat down on the plane beside me and prayed out loud, "Protect me satan and make sure that your devoted minion makes it to the end of this flight to continue his praise to you." Or something equally harmless, more power to him/her. I may even use it as an excuse to strike up a conversation with them, as honestly I have never had an in depth religious discussion with a Satanist and think it might be an interesting way to pass the time on a plane.

      The only restriction I believe is appropriate on religious belief is to stop them from hurting other people or ritualistic abuse of animals. When you hurt another living being in the name of your religion you have passed beyond your rights and intruded on theirs.

      March 14, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  18. The Truth

    It goes to show how out of touch people are in this country when it comes to someone practicing and expressing their faith publically. Most people in this country are ashamed to express their faith because it is only a religious duty to them and not a real spiritual relationship with the only true and living God!!! Example: Many people go to all types of churches on Sunday but at the same time make ungodly laws and rules to try to keep God out of everything between Monday thru Saturday!!! Why because they say all kinds of things with their lips but their hearts are far from God!!! America is full of religious hypocrites who's real god is their money!!! You know this is the truth!!!

    Pastor Evans

    March 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • 21k

      and so what religion should rule? which one is the one-true? i know the pope wrote that only r.c. is the one true religion, that all others have defects. which version of the bible? the earliest, or the new rewrite being prepared now? no, the best way to keep us on the straight and narrow is to make the wall between all churches and state higher and wider.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • ad

      whose god is the mightiest? when you say god, which god are you talking about? how can you be sure that your god is the true god? what about god mitra or the sun god?

      March 14, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • saresudog

      I could halfway believe in the sun god because at least I can see it and know that it's there everyday. As far as people like you The Truth. You are the scariest of them all and a great reason why our forefathers wanted a separation of church and state. Please Jesus, protect me from your followers.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  19. Chris Hanson

    As long as you don't hear " Allah akbar" you should be fine.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Rich

      LOL talk about over an reaction – oy vay!

      March 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • ProudJew

      Thats Right.....The orthodox jews have been wearing Tefilin for over 3000 yrs daily (apart from the sabbath)...and none of them has ever used it as a reason to murder women and children......Why cant you all admit....some of us out there are really losing it....

      March 14, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  20. ashamed

    Did 9/11 do away with freedom of religion? Also as these men were Orthodox, weren't they wearing prayer shawls? Yay for observing something...but look even closer next time. Yaweh bless these men for being cooperative.

    March 14, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Forreal89

      whatever have some respect people are scared on the planes from 911 I am sure your precious prayer can wait or just don't fly since it is so important you should be ashamed of yourself

      March 14, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Forreal, so we no longer have a first amendment? This is the THIRD time orthodox Jews were harassed over their prayers in an aircraft.
      It is NOT your place to tell someone when and where they may and may not pray, nor is it the Airline's place OR the federal government.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Alex

      @Forreal89: If you are so scared of people praying why don't YOU stay home or drive instead?

      March 14, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • noreligion

      pray all you want in private. If you want others to respect your religion, learn to respect others first.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Eric

      And that is why militant Athiests are just as scary as militant religious folks. Folks like you want to take away the right of people to pray in public. Soon it will be another form of free speech. Then another. I am not here to argue religion... just extremism in any form is dangerous... and those people oughtn't be in positions of power.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • Granite Sentry

      OK, they have the right to do it, but can they not just give us a break for crying out loud? Have they been asleep since 911 or do they just not care about anybody's feelings but their own? Sometimes a little discretion is a very Godly thing, especially at 30,000 feet. http://www.granitesentry.com

      March 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • saresudog

      Sorry ashamed, but this whole hodgepodge of religious rituals is utterly ridiculous in the 21st century. It's time for people to let go of their little mythological creatures and habits, and grow up and become part of the real world.

      March 14, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • whatguy

      Why should people not be allowed to pray in public? Can you speak in public? The same exact amendment that allows you to, allows them to pray there and says the government can't make it illegal or harass them for it. Get over your militant crusade to enforce your own religion (the belief that there is no God is a belief, and therefore the foundation of the atheist religion) on everyone and let them choose to believe as they wish. Seriously, stop being so closed minded and belligerent, towards those who believe. Just because they have the audacity to disagree with you doesn't mean you should crusade to make their beliefs illegal to express in public.

      March 14, 2011 at 10:04 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.