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  • Muslim Cabbies and Christian Pharmacists

       October 10, 2006

    Where do we draw the line when one's religious convictions affect job performance? Many people are up in arms about Muslim cabbies' refusal to transport dogs or alcohol. Not too long ago, people were outraged that some Christian pharmacists refused to dispense what they considered abortifacients. I have declined to build websites that included gratuitous nudity and for religions whose doctrines conflict with my faith, and I will continue to select the clients I will deal with based on my personal religious, moral and political convictions. As a society, where do we draw the line?

    The answer is easy. We don't. Any line that we draw will take away someone's freedom. A cab company or pharmacy is free to write job descriptions that include carrying dogs or dispensing anything a doctor describes, and to only hire people that will meet the job description. Cabbies and pharmacists with restrictions on what they will do can seek employment elsewhere or start their own company and compete in the marketplace.

    The current plan to add lights to identify Muslim cabs is an excellent one. As for me, whether or not I am carrying alcohol or have a dog with me, I'll just refrain from using those cabs, just as some potential clients have undoubtedly not dialed my number because my business is overtly Christian - the name even references a bible verse, and if someone asks about it, I'm happy to explain. We should not attempt to force someone to violate their religious convictions, no matter how foolish we may find those convictions. To do so is not just abhorrent, it's unAmerican.

    Update: Daniel Pipes thinks it's a bad idea:

    But on a societal level, the proposed solution has massive and worrisome implications. Namely, the two-light plan intrudes the Shari‘a, or Islamic law, with state sanction, into a mundane commercial transaction in Minnesota. A government authority thus sanctions a signal as to who does or does not follow Islamic law.

    What of taxi drivers beyond those at MSP? Other Muslims in Minneapolis-St. Paul and across the country could well demand the same privilege. Bus conductors might follow suit. The whole transport system could be divided between those Islamically observant and those not so.

    Why stop with alcohol? Muslim taxi drivers in several countries already balk at allowing seeing-eye dogs in their cars. Future demands could include not transporting women with exposed arms or hair, homosexuals, and unmarried couples. For that matter, they could ban men wearing kippas, as well as Hindus, atheists, bartenders, croupiers, astrologers, bankers, and quarterbacks.

    He's certainly right in that this could escalate, and it seems clear that this will result in bad service. But I still don't see a better solution - how can we force someone to violate their religious beliefs?

    Posted by Laura Curtis at October 10, 2006 04:25 PM

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    #  October 11th, 2006 1:27 PM      james
    i am very wary of tagging any set of people with a special symbol. i realize the differences, but it sounds too much like giving out armbands to me.

    laura, you of course have the right to refuse to take on projects that you find disagreeable. i dont think that is the same thing, however, as refusing to transport someone based on what may or may not be in their bag. in other words, if you were a cab driver, i don't think that you would refuse to transport someone carrying pornography.

    of course, now that i think about it, this isnt the best example, as someone carrying porn in plain view would have other issues. however, i still think it illustrates that it would unreasonable for you to put up a special light that indicates, "if you are carrying porn, or if you like porn, please do not get into my cab."

    this also isnt the best example, but if you were a cab driver, would you refuse to transport homosexuals simply because your religion teaches that homosexuality is a sin?

    i have never heard of this muslim/dog issue, but i take it that dogs are verbotten in islam? or perhaps only dogs not wearing a burka? personally, i think that's idiotic, but i agree that law should not force cab drivers to transport most dogs. that said, religious belief should not exempt muslims from any generally applicable law. as it is now, a store owner cannot refuse entry to trained seeing eye dog. cab drivers (or store owners) should not be permitted to do so either, religious belief or no religious belief.

    in the same vein, taking your "no lines" approach, would muslim cabbies then be permitted to not transport women?  
    #  October 11th, 2006 3:27 PM      thegameiam
    I don't like this approach - taxi drivers are publicly licensed to fulfill a public good. Taxicab drivers are not allowed to refuse service to anyone on basis of race, so they shouldn't be able to refuse service to them on basis of religion either.  
    #  October 11th, 2006 4:28 PM      Laura
    "this also isnt the best example, but if you were a cab driver, would you refuse to transport homosexuals simply because your religion teaches that homosexuality is a sin?"

    Well, no - in fact I have homosexual clients now. The websites are for businesses unrelated to anyone's sex life, so I have no problem with building and hosting those. But that's me and my faith - I don't want to decide for someone else.

    I don't know the ins and outs of the law, but I agree that people who cannot comply with applicable laws need to find another job. But in the absence of a legal decision, I think the market should decide the matter.

    I won't get into a taxi driven by someone practicing that brand of Islam (not that I take taxis often anyway, but you get the point...), and the driver, for refusing to transport me and my dog and my booze, should go to the end of the line. If the financial penalty is worth it to him, then fine - if not, he can find another job where his religion will not be a hindrance to him.  
    #  October 11th, 2006 8:41 PM      james
    i think we're in agreement laura. tell me if you agree with the following:

    1) no law should compel a pharmacist to dispense abortifacients.

    2) an pharmacy should be free to make it a requirement that all of its pharmacists dispense abortifacients upon request.

    3) if a pharmacist refuses to dispense an abortifacient in violation of pharmacy policy, the pharmacy should be free to terminate him without fear of an unlawful termination suit. in other words, the pharmacist should have no legal claim against the pharmacy.

    that is ideally how i think it should work. i don't know if it works that way or not, and #3 brings a lot of potential legal issues to mind. i can think of a few potential ways that the pharmacist might be able to recover, esp if he was employed by a large chain. (but again, i dont know the law)  
    #  October 11th, 2006 9:10 PM      Laura
    Sounds good to me.

    "(but again, i dont know the law)"
    LOL, is that why you're doing other work now? Not that I'm complaining!  
    #  October 11th, 2006 9:27 PM      james
    haha, no, i know plenty some a little how to spell law, just not law in that area. as to why im doing this, hey, why spend your life working for someone else - especially when you can have your own company, do twice as much work and have twice as much stress, all while making half as much money? :)

    interestingly, i have done some law things for our clients, but have declined to do others. it's a complicated matter b/c 1) im only admitted in ny, not minnesota (yet) which could be seen as practicing w/o a license and 2) there are fee-sharing & corporate structure issues that i need to find time to research (lawyers cant share fees with non-lawyers, this has an impact on our corporate structure.) as soon as we get all of that worked out, we're going to start advertising trademark & copyright services - from what i've seen, there's a nice fit there.  



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