Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Consumer Discrimination Based on Religion

Pam Spaulding on Pandagon has written a post about the connections between the pro-life pharmacists' refusal to dispense the contraceptive pill in some localities and these news from Minnesota:

Imagine you're returning from a trip with a bottle of French wine to celebrate your wedding anniversary. At the airport, you drag your bags out to the taxi stand in the cold breeze. As the cab pulls up, you hoist your suitcases, eager to get home.

But when the driver spots your wine, he shakes his head emphatically. The Qur'an prohibits him from accepting passengers with alcohol, he tells you. OK, so you'll take the next cab. But the next driver waves you off, and the next.

Scenes like this have played out hundreds of times at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport over the last few years. About three-fourths of the 900 taxi drivers at the airport are Somali, many of them Muslim. In September, the Star Tribune reported that one flight attendant had been refused by five drivers, because she had wine in her suitcase.

Taxi drivers who refuse a customer, except for safety reasons, must go to the end of the taxi line.

They face a potential three-hour wait for the next fare. Muslim drivers asked for an exemption, and officials of the Metropolitan Airports Commission proposed color-coded lights on cab roofs to indicate whether the driver would accept a passenger carrying alcohol.

I can see the similarities in the two cases. Both the Christian pharmacists and the Muslim cabdrivers insist that their religious preferences should override the needs and desires of their customers, and both insist that this should happen without costing them anything in lost income. I also agree with Pam that this trend should be nipped in the bud, for if we don't do so, what's the consequence? A world where you never know who will refuse to serve you and for what reason.

The article I quoted above makes the same point:

In some other cities, "Chapter Two" has already begun. Muslim cab drivers elsewhere, for example, have refused to transport blind customers with seeing-eye dogs, which they say their religion considers unclean. On Oct. 6, the Daily Mail of London reported that two cab drivers had been fined for rejecting blind customers. In Melbourne, Australia, "at least 20 dog-aided blind people have lodged discrimination complaints" after similarly being refused service, the Herald Sun reported.

In Minneapolis, Muslim taxi drivers have repeatedly refused to transport Paula Hare, who is transgendered, KMSP-TV, Channel 9, reported this month.


And what if Muslim drivers demand the right not to transport women wearing short skirts or tank tops, or unmarried couples? After taxis, why not buses, trains and planes? Eventually, in some respects, our society could be divided along religious lines.

"After taxes, why not buses, trains and planes?" In fact, this may already be happening:

A city bus driver who complained about a gay-themed ad got official permission not to drive any bus that carries that ad, according to an internal memo confirmed Tuesday by Metro Transit.

Transit authorities call it a reasonable accommodation to the driver's religious beliefs.

Treating customers in a discriminating manner is nothing new, of course. Blacks are still sometimes refused service in restaurants and young black men may find getting a cab late at night difficult. But these acts of discrimination are against the law. If we make religious discrimination against consumers legal, how long will it be before some church will declare that the separation of the races is a basic doctrine, say? And I can certainly imagine some Muslim cabdrivers refusing to give rides to women who travel without a male guardian.