January 06, 2007

First the Pope, then the Dope Shows Some Hope

In the space of one week, I agree with both the Vatican and Bill O'Lielly? What gives?

While channel surfing the other night, I caught the tail end of an O'Reilly Factor interview with Eric Vickers of the American Muslim Council. The issue was the refusal of Somali Muslim taxi drivers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to carry passengers who are carrying alcoholic beverages. Not passengers who are drunk. Not passengers who are drinking. Not passengers with open containers of alcohol. Passengers who, fully within their legal rights, are transporting sealed bottles and cans of alcoholic beverages.

As is his style, Bill O'Reilly attacked his invited guest Eric Vickers. I searched for a transcript of the interview, but have not been able to find one. From what I remember, Vickers argued that the Muslim cab drivers must be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs, which include not consuming alcohol, and that forcing them to transport passengers who possessed alcoholic beverages violated these cab drivers' religious freedom and thus discriminated against them based on religion. O'Reilly stated that no passenger carrying sealed alcoholic beverages was causing the cab drivers to violate their religious beliefs. On the contrary, said O'Reilly, singling out individual passengers for refusal of service is the discrimination here. O'Reilly asked Vickers, what if the cab drivers were Jewish and refused to carry Christian passengers wearing visible crucifixes?

I have to agree with Bill O'Reilly on this one. Cab drivers, by and large, are common carriers. They are required to offer their services to the public in a non-discrimnatory way, with a few exceptions, such as visibly violent or unruly passengers. No one forced these Muslim cab drivers at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to take jobs where they knew they would have to be common carriers dealing with many members of the public in an enclosed automobile. Moreover, as Bill O'Reilly said, no one is accusing the passengers of trying to foist the alcohol on the drivers, or of preaching the wonders of drinking alcohol to the drivers.

This isn't a case of equal treatment, as the cab drivers seem to argue. It's a case of special treatment. If the cab drivers get their way, the result would be similar to the discrimination by cities and airports who put up lavish Christmas displays and then deny other religious groups the same privilege. The cab drivers at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport say the problem can be solved by having different cabs with different colored lights indicating which ones are being driven by Muslim drivers, so that passengers with alcoholic beverages would be asked to choose different cabs. In the days of racial segregation in the U.S., this was known as "separate but equal." If these cab drivers are accommodated, what next? What if Christian cab drivers refuse to carry passengers wearing Muslim garb, claiming that it offends their religion or that they are worried the Muslims are terrorists? What if cab drivers who are members of the White Aryan Nation refuse to carry black passengers? Pretty soon, taxicabs, like restrooms and water fountains in the U.S. not too long ago, will have to be labeled "white," "black" (or, in the parlance of the 1950s, "colored,") "Christian," "Muslim," "Buddhist," etc., and we'll be back to the segregated society that the U.S. Constitution forbids.

One last thing: the cab drivers' profiling of passengers only with visible alcoholic beverages is underinclusive. Most airport passengers carrying alcoholic beverages do so in bags or baggage, not out in the open. The cabbies would only be turning away a small percentage of the alcohol that is getting into their cabs and infecting them. Why stop there? Why not ask for security checkpoints at all taxicab stands, where passengers and their baggage would be searched for alcoholic beverages, so that none of them would end up in the Muslim drivers' cabs?

As Bill O'Reilly said, for once correctly, the "separate but equal" taxicab idea is "insane."


At 6:48 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

I'll have to remember to hide my booze the next time I go to the Twin Cities. How dare they discriminate against me!


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