Sunday, October 29, 2006

Diversity Run Amok?

Seems there is a controversy in Minneapolis where certain Muslim taxi drivers are refusing to carry passengers that have alcohol in their luggage. According to a recent article in the Star Tribune by Katherine Kersten, the problem involves Somali cab drivers who do not want to carry passengers who have alcohol. She notes that the issue in part has to do with conflicting interpretations of the Koran by different Muslim groups and that the current problem stems from a fatwah issued by the Minnesota chapter of Muslim American Society.

This may seem like a minor issue, but it is really quite similar to the controversy about the "rights" of medical personal to refuse to dispense birth control or do some legal procedure that is against their religion. To me the issue is quite simple. We live in a secular society and it has been against the law for some time now to discriminate in public accommodations and in public transactions based on religious preferences.

To me this means if someone comes to you for your service, you do not have an automatic right to refuse to offer the service just because something about that person or that person's choices offends you. You do not have to approve of their choices but you need to provide the services, unless you have some safety or other legitimate medical consern about providing the service. The cabbies would, for instance, be well within their rights to refuse service to some one drinking or disrupting the peace, just as a pharmacist can refuse to dispense medicines for which a person does not have a valid prescription or a doctor can refuse to do a medically dangerous procedure.

Some might say, let the free market decide and on the surface that seems OK. But let's imagine a different situation. I hail a cab and just happen to be carrying a copy of Richard Dawkins the God Delusion. Would a Fundamentalist Christian cabbie be able to refuse me service? Most of the nation is Christian so were we to let market forces decide the issue then I might have difficulty getting a ride. We have anti discrimination laws precisely because market forces don't always work. They don't always protect the minority or the individual in what ought to be economic transactions or from violations of core American beliefs.

Not convinced? Well here is another example. On my campus we have a group of Christians who belong to Campus Crusade for Christ. Quite frankly I find their theology quite offensive personally and I know they find my theology equally offensive. Should I have the right to demand that they not advertise on campus because they offend me or some other subset of the campus community? Of course not, any more than they have the right to demand that gay groups, such as the college LGBT club be removed.

We live in a secular society: one that tries to balance respect for individual beliefs with protection of individual rights in public accomodation-transportation, education, services, and housing. It is this core value that most (I wish I could say all) Americans understand. It is this celebrating this sort of core value that we celebrate when we talk about diversity as something to celebrate. You don't have to approve of someone else's beliefs, but in our society you need to interact impartially with all the people you contact.

Links to articles about this case and the role of Muslims in America:

As an aside, much of the criticism of the cabbies seems driven by conservative fears about Muslims rather than conservative commitment to a secular society! So I detect just a hint of hypocrisy and fear mongering in some of these articles and blogs. After all Sharia is to be feared but this sort of thing doesn't raise an eyebrow. Where is Thomas Jefferson when you need him?,4670,MuslimCabbiesAlcohol,00.html

See if this suits you any better than Sharia:

or this:

Technorati Tags(For all it's worth; Technorati has stopped updating its links for me):

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