Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Religious freedom or discrimination?

I've seen several news accounts lately of Muslim taxi cab drivers refusing to accept fares based on their religious beliefs. Not the beliefs of the passengers, but the beliefs of the drivers.

In one case it was a refusal to allow packages containing alcohol in the cab. In another it was a refusal to allow a blind woman's guide dog in the cab. (Alcohol is forbidden, and dogs considered unclean, in Islam).

In the case of the blind woman and her dog (London), the driver was fined for violating British laws forbidding discrimination against the disabled. In the case of the alcohol refusal (Minnesota), officials at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are considering making Muslim cab drivers identify themselves by placing a different colored light atop their taxi (to avoid future problems or confrontations).

Travelers are upset:
"They're really kind of imparting their religious views on the public," said traveler Katie Patterson of McKinney, Texas.
I'm not sure that's correct, however. Is it forcing your beliefs on another to simply ask that yours be respected? Are they practicing the freedom of religion that the Constitution promises them? Or are they practicing a form of reverse discrimination?

You are used to seeing signs in restaurants and retail shops saying, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." How far does that concept go, and on what basis can a business refuse a customer without violating anti-discrimination laws?

Obviously, if the Muslim business owner were ejecting every Sikh customer, regardless of alcohol, animal, or other impurity, it would be a clear-cut case of discrimination. But if the business owner welcomes people of all faiths, nationalities, creeds, and ethnic backgrounds, but asks that they not carry a religiously banned item, it's far less clear.

There is no constitutional right to carry alcohol on (or in) somebody else's property. The guide dog situation is a bit trickier, but as long as a business owner is willing to make some sort of "reasonable accommodation" and is willing to provide service to the blind or disabled, I'd question whether there's an absolute right to bring the dog in any particular cab.

To force either of these situations would create a situation where the Muslim cab drivers would have a good argument for a discrimination complaint of their own. You can't force people to perform acts (or sell services) that are against their religious beliefs.

Making Muslim cab drivers identify themselves by colored lights on their cabs is also crossing a line. It would allow passengers to openly discriminate against riding in their cabs, whether or not they have alcohol or dogs with them.

Really, what is the difference between making Muslim cab drivers shine a colored light, or making Jews wear yellow arm bands? It is singling out one group to be identified as "different" than any other citizen or legal resident.

Now let's talk about being fair with this precedent. If you cannot force a Muslim taxi driver to perform services that are against his religion, what about a Catholic druggist?

As a good "liberal" I have probably complained about pharmacies that refuse to carry birth control items on religious grounds. Am I a huge hypocrite, or does health care require an exception?

I'm thinking that I'm a hypocrite, and that as long as birth control is available elsewhere, no discrimination or deprivation of rights has occurred by a refusal to carry them by a single pharmacy.

I don't like it. I think it's a public health and safety issue to make birth control available as widely as possible.

But, I'd have to say, you can reserve the right to provide products or services that are against your religion.

You can't force a Muslim cab driver to accept alcohol or dogs, you can't force a Catholic druggist to supply birth control, and you can't force a Jewish medical clinic to stay open on the Sabbath.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Very well said!
    If your interested in UK/American politics as well then visit my site, at:

  2. Nicely said.

    I try to keep my mouth shut when it comes to politics, but I believe that as long as someone isn't discriminating against someone based on their beliefs, and only asks that their religion be respected, I would do so.

    As for the health care issues, birth control, clinic hours, taxi cabs, I would ask whether it's a private business/practice or a government funded one. If it were government funded, then they should set aside their religious sanctions - otherwise, they're entitled to operate their business in accordance with their belief system.

    My 2 cents only.

  3. Oh, my, but I strongly disagree.

    I'd accept that a cab driver might refuse to allow someone to drink in his cab. But refusing a closed bottle of liquor? No.

    Suppose a cabbie said that his religion doesn't allow him to be alone with a woman who's not part of his family... so he won't take fares who are women. Do you think he has that right? Maybe he won't take a fare whose head isn't covered, because he considers it to disrespect God. Should his fares be required to wear hats in his cab?

    Some business may carry whatever goods they want, or provide some services and not others. But for some businesses, what they provide — and when — are regulated in some way, and business owners have to abide by those rules. I think that's as it should be.

    Cab drivers fall into that category; in most areas, they're regulated by an agency that tells them what choices they have and what they're required to do. Health-care workers fall into that category too. An emergency-care physician who refused to treat an unwed pregnant woman would have a lot of explaining to do. The same goes, I think, for the pharmacist who won't dispense contraceptives.

    >>you can't force a Jewish medical clinic to stay open on the Sabbath.

    That's actually not true. If you have a store in a shopping mall, usually your store must be open when the mall is. If you want to stay closed on Saturdays, you'll have to pay penalties, and will likely have your lease cancelled if you persist in it, because keeping to the mall's opening hours is a condition of the lease. Someone with those restrictions just has to find a store elsewhere.

    We should make reasonable accomodations for people, absolutely. But when people's preferences interfere with how they carry out their jobs, and reasonable accomodations don't work... maybe they're in jobs that aren't suitable to their beliefs.

  4. I'm a true yellow dog liberal, but sometimes conservatives and libertarians are right, and this is one of them. Let the market handle it.

    If pharmacists and taxi drivers had good sense, they'd post signs "alcohol may not be carried in this cab", "we don't sell birth control pills."

    Unfortunately, it's the way of the world that people in business don't always have good sense. Often they don't even have the sense God gave a goose. So consumers have to find out the hard way about the services they don't offer.

    My car insurance agent has no way to pay online, but she dowsn't have a warning sign that you'll have to write a... what do you call those things?... oh yeah, "check" to pay for your insurance. But there is a sign right by the front suggesting that we ask about their rates on homeowners' insurance. They advertise stuff they do have, not stuff they don't. Doing anything else goes against the grain.

    I suspect some businesspeople view their disappointing of customer expectations as an opportunity to spread the word. They couldn't be more wrongheaded. I'm going to use their preaching as an opportunity to wipe the dirt from their store off the soles of my shoes.

    I'm reminded of a sub store in Tulsa I visited some years back. I notice the store was playing a particularly insipid variety of "Jesus music". I think they call it "contemporary Christian." It was offensive, not just to non-fundies, but to musicians and people with ears.

    I wrote the owner a note and informed him that, as far as my family and I were concerned, he could sell sandwiches or he could sell Jesus. Pick one. He did. He wrote me a very nice letter, and the next time I came by, the music was unobjectionable.

    The marketplace has ways to shake these things out. That isn't always true, especially when megacorporations get into the act. But in this case I think the market is adequate. Let's let it work.

    Besides, our saying that will confuse the hell out of conservatives!

  5. You are being WAY too understanding about this. In this country, we choose to license most professions because it's in all of our best interest that the people practicing them know what they're doing and don't discriminate. We want to know doctors know where your spleen is, that the one little pharmacy in town isn't going to randomly deny service because they think Jesus told them to, and that cab drivers can't pick and choose their customers so long as those customers arn't breaking the law. The first amendment doesn't cover what is basically incompetence in your job. If you want to fail because you think sky daddy cares, sorry, you'll just have to get another one.

  6. Thank you for all your comments so far - I've posted a follow-up with some additional thoughts...

  7. I think a person has a right to go into a pharmacy and buy medicine without the pharmacist imposing his or her religious beliefs on the patient, or discriminating against that patient because of his/her beliefs. They are licensed to dispense medicine, not make decisions about it for others. Also, there are important public policy reasons why we don't allow this practice (for example, persons in remote areas with limited choices, crime victims, etc.)

    I think the same reasoning applies to the taxi drivers. I can understand a driver not wanting a drunk who might throw up in their car, a person carrying an illegal open bottle, or dogs or animals on a regular basis -- simply because they can ruin upholstery. But if a blind person needs a ride, I think it incumbent upon the driver to take the guide dog too. And if closed alchohol is being carried -- and likely in a bag that the driver doesn't even know the contents of anyway -- what's it to them? Do they perhaps not want to carry women who have certain contraceptives in their purses because they believe those contraceptives are sinful? Or people who carry cigarettes? Do they want to search these bags for illegal goods? Since when in Islam did alchohol carried by others in vehicles become a religious law?

    While Islam, in some circles, may call dogs "unclean," there were no automobiles in Mohammad's time and he made no prohibitions against animals or the liquor packages of non-Muslims being carried in transport vehicles run by Muslims. (Or I challenge someone to show me otherwise, if I am mistaken.) So, IMO, this is purely a superstitious and discriminatory invention on the part of the cabbies, based on their prejudices about others' beliefs or views.

    I think the red light idea is ridiculous. Assuming the cabbies are expected to do their jobs (with reasonable allowances as for any other cabbie), it's unnecessary and therefore one does not have to be concerned about whether or not some kind of marker is comparable to a star.

  8. addition to last post --

    I DO think Jewish clinics should be required to be open on Sabbath, and that Catholic hospitals should be required by law to inform rape victims of the availability of emergency contraception and to provide it, no religious or moral opinions given.

    If they can't do this, then the government better start funding and constructing a whole lot more hospitals and clinics all over the country.

    I think it's a disgrace what people are refusing to do for their fellow man in the so-called name of faith.

    And while it's likely not as serious what the cabbies are doing (with the exception of the guide dog), it's certainly quite unreasonable given the nature of our secular and diverse society.


Twitter Feed