A story on the front page of the real estate section in today’s Detroit Free Press (“Rules hinder low-income buyers’ loans“) featured a young couple’s tale of woe over their failure to qualify for a federal loan:

Lucas Harrison-Zdenek has tried twice since last summer to get a federal loan to buy a foreclosed home.
His credit score hasn’t been good enough. It was 575 last fall when it needed to be 580 and is now 606 when it needs to be 620. He was denied again earlier this month.
The Ferndale massage therapist is hopeful that an update to his credit report to reflect some recently paid debts will push his score up to 620. He’s aiming for a mortgage on a four-bedroom, 1 1/2 -bath house in Ferndale that’s priced at $70,000.
A Jan. 1 change in federal lending guidelines has made it harder for people to benefit from Neighborhood Stabilization Programs, which help lower-income buyers purchase foreclosed homes. The rules pushed the minimum credit score to 620 for an FHA loan.

So apparently the Feds (under Barack Obama) have toughened their standards. That’s not surprising, as a lot of people have been complaining that they were too low. The guy is hoping that his chances of obtaining a loan will improve over time.

“Every time we get denied, I feel like we are closer to getting approved,” said Harrison-Zdenek, 25.
He’s now renting a house in Berkley for his wife, Genevieve, and 3-month-old son, Lincoln.
Harrison-Zdenek’s experience is pretty common for people who are at or below 50% of the local median income, or $31,450, for a family of three.

While I recognize the need for standards, it’s kind of a sad story and I wish the man the best of luck. I wouldn’t have considered this worth a blog post, except for one piddling little detail. This man (who for whatever reason the Detroit Free Press decided ought to be the poster boy for a piece clearly intended to generate sympathy for similarly situated home buyers) has multiple piercings in his face, and it just occurred to me that maybe it would have been good idea for him to have taken them out. At least for the picture. You know, it’s like, being a poster boy is a bit like going to a job interview. I’m not an anti-piercing bigot by any means. On the right people and in the right places, they turn me on. But certainly if I had multiple piercings and I wanted to sell my image to a boss or to regular middle-class people, I’d take them out — at least for the interview or the photo session.
In the picture in the paper, the man has large plugs through his earlobes, a prominent visible nose ring hanging in front of his mustache, and another ring going through the middle of his lower lip. As I say, I’m not uptight about these things, but a lot of people think it’s gross, and it might be a hard sell in the employment market.
This led my thoughts to wonder about piercings and the law, and I soon learned that there has been a considerable amount of legal wrangling over allegations of “discrimination” by employees who claimed their rights were violated by employers who had rules against employees wearing piercings:

When one of the plaintiff’s supervisors reminded her of the no facial piercings policy, the plaintiff for the first time stated she was a member of the Church of Body Modification (CBM) and that her eyebrow piercing was part of her religion. There was some question as to when the plaintiff actually became a member of that church; however, the court did not consider that important for the purposes of resolving the lawsuit. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from religious discrimination. Under the EEOC’s guidelines and regulations, a religion does not just include mainstream churches and beliefs. In fact, an individual does not need to be a member of an organized church at all in order to invoke the protections of Title VII. An employer is required to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs in the event of a conflict between an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs and a condition of employment unless an accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship. Undue hardship does not refer only to economic considerations, such as the costs involved in hiring another individual to perform an employee’s work while the employee is engaged in a religious practice. It also includes such things as the hardship it would cause an employer to violate a seniority system in place.

The employee lost, and one of the reasons was that she had joined the “church” years after her initial hire.
What fascinated me was that I hadn’t even known there was such a church. But there is, and apparently if you have piercings and join in, you’ve basically boosted yourself into protected minority status. You can claim that your “religion” prohibits the employer from making you remove — or even cover — your piercings.

The CBM was begun in 1999, apparently communicates primarily through its website, and includes approximately 1000 members. Its practices include piercing, tattooing, branding, cutting and body manipulation. The mission statement of the CBM states among its goals a desire for members to “grow an individuals through body modification and its teachings,” to “promote growth in mind, body and spirit,” and to be “confident role models in learning, teaching and displaying body modification.” The CBM’s website materials were viewed by a higher supervisor in the company who then told the plaintiff and the other employee involved to remove their facial jewelry. They refused, and the plaintiff filed a religious discrimination charge with the EEOC. The plaintiff proposed that she be allowed to cover the eyebrow piercing with a flesh-colored band-aid while at work. The store manager refused and gave the plaintiff the alternative of removing the eyebrow piercing or going home. She went home. She asked if she could use vacation time to cover her absences and was told that she had been suspended. On July 14, the plaintiff was notified that she had been terminated for absenteeism related to her refusal to comply with the dress code. Despite her termination, the plaintiff and the company were in contact due to the EEOC’s mediation process. During this process, the defendant offered to let the plaintiff wear the plastic retainers to work or in the alternative to place a band-aid over the eyebrow piercing. The latter was the accommodation the plaintiff had originally requested. However, this time the plaintiff contended that the only acceptable accommodation was to excuse her entirely from the dress code and allow her to wear her facial jewelry to work. Anything other than that, she maintained, would violate her religious convictions that required her to display all of her facial piercings all of the time. Costco refused to completely exempt the plaintiff from the requirements of the dress code. Its argument was that her desired accommodation would interfere with the company’s ability to maintain a professional appearance and would thus constitute an undue hardship for the company. The EEOC concluded that the company had engaged in religious discrimination against the plaintiff. The plaintiff thereupon sued Costco for violating Title VII and state law. In reviewing the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the trial court noted the requirements for a plaintiff to prevail in a religious discrimination suit under Title VII. The plaintiff had to make the case that a bona fide religious practice conflicted with a requirement of employment, that this situation was brought to the attention of the employer and that the conflict was the basis of an adverse employment action, such as termination. If the plaintiff established such a case, the burden was shifted to the employer to show that it had offered a reasonable accommodation, or, if it did not offer such an accommodation, that doing so would have resulted in an undue hardship for the company. With respect to the first requirement, the district court expressed doubt that the plaintiff’s claim was based on a bona fide religious practice because, even if the church represented a genuine religion, it did not require that facial piercings be displayed at all times. The plaintiff’s interpretation of the church’s beliefs appeared to the court to be a personal one and not a church dictate. Furthermore, the court doubted whether or not the plaintiff’s belief was sincerely held. Specifically, the court noted that the plaintiff originally had offered to cover the piercing with a band-aid but was now maintaining that doing so would violate her religion. The court ultimately did not base its ruling on whether or not the CBM was a bona fide religion or the plaintiff’s beliefs were sincerely held. Rather, it concluded that even if the church was genuine and the plaintiff sincere, the employer had met its burden of showing that it had offered the plaintiff a reasonable accommodation by giving her the option of covering the piercing with a band-aid or wearing a clear plastic retainer. The court emphasized that accommodation went both ways. Although an employer had a duty to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs, an employee had a duty to cooperate with an employer’s good faith efforts to accommodate. Furthermore, an employer did not have the duty to grant an employee’s preferred accommodation. The employer here offered an accommodation, the employee did not. Thus, the district court granted Costco summary judgment on the Title VII claim and also granted it summary judgment on the state law claim that remained in the litigation. The plaintiff appealed. At the outset, the appellate court noted that determining whether a belief is religious in nature is a difficult and delicate assignment and that courts are not really suited to make such a decision. The First Circuit chose not to make such a determination in this case. Rather, the appellate court decided that even if the plaintiff’s position was based on sincerely held religious beliefs, the only accommodation she would accept would constitute an undue hardship for the employer. The appellate court’s reasoning differed somewhat from that of the trial court.

Anyway, the whole thing fascinated me, especially because I don’t like the growing tendency of people to claim “religious discrimination” for a whole host of things.
So I wanted to know more about the Church. Here’s its “Statement of Faith“:

As followers of this faith, it is our purpose to educate and inspire, to share ideas, and to help each other achieve our dreams. We strive to unify and strengthen our mind, body, and soul so we can overcome any challenges we may encounter. We assert and protect our rights to modify our bodies and to practice our rituals.
We believe our bodies belong only to ourselves and are a whole and integrated entity: mind, body, and soul. We maintain we have the right to alter them for spiritual and other reasons.
Affirmation of our living, breathing, physical beings is paramount to our self-identities and helps us define who we are. The Church of Body Modification promotes affirmation and growth of a more expansive perspective of our physical and spiritual being.

I don’t mean to question the sincerity of anyone’s religious beliefs, but it occurred to me that I could make a similar claim about almost anything, provided I called it a religion.
For example, I love pit bulls, and I hate the breed specific legislation that’s been springing up all over the place. And while it never occurred to me that God (or the gods) intended me to be allowed a special bond with a particular breed, now I’m thinking that maybe he or they did.
So therefore, maybe it’s time to introduce a a brand-new Statement of Faith:

As followers of this faith, it is our purpose to educate and inspire, to share ideas, and to help each other achieve our dreams. We strive to unify and strengthen our mind, body, and soul so we can overcome any challenges we may encounter. We assert and protect our rights to own, live with, and share companionship with a wonderful animal we believe to be divinely blessed and inspired, the American Pit Bull Terrier.
We believe all pit bulls have a right to live and share in the joyous human experience as God intended them, free of interference by other, less compassionate human beings. We maintain we have the right to own and live with them for spiritual and other reasons.
Affirmation of our living, breathing, pit bull companions is paramount to our self-identities and helps us define who we are. The Church of the American Pit Bull Terrier promotes affirmation and growth of a more expansive perspective of our physical and spiritual relationship with this divinely inspired breed.

Don’t laugh, damn it! The CBM is giving me ideas, and we all know, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
I don’t mean to get carried away, but one idea leads to another (especially after a couple of cups of coffee), and pretty soon, this was taking shape as a possible idea for a blog post. But to write a blog post, you need links, and no sooner did I open the link to the story that got me started than I found a brand new mystery staring me in the face.
The piercings on the guy whose piercings got me all stirred up were disappearing in front of my very eyes!
Wow! I thought. Might he have thought it over and decided he should clean up his look a bit and asked for a reshoot? Thinking it might be a different picture, I looked again, closely. Nope, it’s the same picture. Minus the nose and lower lip rings, and the ear plugs are now barely visible. (It looks like he has a hoop ring in his ear on the right of the picture.)
The problem now is that if my suspicions are right, this has escalated from being a cutesy little post about a minor issue into something else. And it makes this post a lot more difficult, because now I have to go upstairs to where my stupid scanner that I hardly ever use is, fetch it down from the top shelf of the crowded closet, find the damn adaptor and USB cords and plug it in to the other computer, probably reboot — all in order to demonstrate what I’m complaining about. Another half hour down the drain. What a pain in the ass.
Still, if there is one standard for the people reading at home and another for the larger online world, I’d love to know why. If anything, the people reading online are less likely to be judgmental about these things, so it doesn’t make sense.
Unless something changes when a poster boy becomes a bigger story with a national audience….. If so, why?
Anyway, it didn’t take me a half an hour to set up the scanner and get in in; it only took 15 minutes. With my scanner set on 300dpi, I got a pretty good shot of the whole picture, but the trouble is, it came out of my scanner as a gigantic image — 2451 by 3496 — which is far too big for the blog.
So I cropped just the man’s face, otherwise unaltered from the scanned image:
DFP_scan131_face.jpg
The piercings are quite obvious.
In comparison, here’s the image from the online version of the story:
DFP_online131croppedto490.jpg
The size of the above is unchanged, but as the original is 600 is 400, I cropped the edges to make it fit the blog.
So where did the metal go? Shrinking the pixel size seems to make it less visible, but even when I tried shrinking my scanned image to the same pixellage as the online version, I could still see the piercings. But not on the Free Press version.
I realize I am being nitpicky and that probably none of this matters.
But OTOH, when a detail in the paper is missing online, it bothers me, and with a possible religious issue involved, I though I should try to be thorough.