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MN cabbies seek religious exemption to discriminate against customers

[UPDATE: received an email with more insanity — a bus driver refused to drive a bus with an ad for a gay paper on it. Scroll to the end of the post for more.]

This makes me think back to the good old days, the quaint “hailing a cab while black” phenomenon. Now people in the Twin Cities have to worry whether their cabbie will be allowed to refuse service based on gender identity or orientation, for instance, because it conflicts with the driver’s religious beliefs.

This is insanity. The first example is the refusal to transport someone carrying a bottle of wine. (Star Tribune):

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.

How to solve this problem? Those who refuse a fare have to go to the back of the cab line, resulting in a long wait for an “acceptable” fare. A proposal by the Metropolitan Airports Commission to provide color-coded lights on cab roofs to indicate whether they would accept people with alcohol was proposed, but that didn’t fly with the public.

What has already come to pass in other cities is that cabbies now use the excuse of religious beliefs to justify rejecting a potential fare for all sorts of reasons.

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.

You can see where this is going, right? Any fundamentalist Christian cabbie could also cite similar justifications for refusing service to a “group” it deems objectionable to their beliefs as well. In this case the concern is about the state endorsing accommodation that is discriminatory.

Government sanction of a two-tiered cab system would amount to an acknowledgement that Shari’a, or Islamic law, is relevant to a routine commercial transaction in the Twin Cities. The MAC, a government agency, would be officially approving a signal that differentiates those who follow Islamic law from those who don’t.

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.

I hate to break it to the Star Tribune’s Katherine Kersten, but we already are divided. “Christian” pharmacists in some parts of the country are allowed to refuse filling a prescription if they object on religious principles to the use of the drug.

These kinds of battles can only escalate if we don’t nip it in the bud.

***

UPDATE: The insanity continues, again from this AM’s Star-Tribune (h/t Dave B.):

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.

…The ad at the center of the Metro Transit flap is for Lavender, a local magazine for a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) audience. It runs periodically on 50 city buses and carries a photo of a young man with the slogan, “Unleash Your Inner Gay.”

Hat tip, Autumn.

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Pam Spaulding

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