Minneapolis Sharia Cab Controversy Update by Patrick Condon for Associated Press, with thanks to JS:
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – For Abdi Mohamed, it’s not a question of whether he’ll carry passengers with alcohol in his cab. The question is whether he’ll get punished for refusing to do so.
“I am Muslim. I’m not going to carry alcohol,” Mohamed, a driver for Bloomington Cab, told a Metropolitan Airports Commission panel that gathered public opinion Tuesday regarding proposed penalties for cabbies who refuse service to passengers carrying alcohol.
Dozens of cab drivers showed up for the hearing at a hotel near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Commissioners are charged with setting a new policy by May, when airport licenses for cab drivers are set to expire. Under the proposal, drivers who refuse service for any reason would have their license suspended for 30 days. A second refusal would mean a two-year revocation of the license.
According to airport officials, about 80 percent of their cabdrivers are Somali, who are commonly Muslim. Islam religious law strictly forbids the carrying of alcohol.
Last year, airport officials said alcohol-bearing passengers were being refused service an average of 77 times a month, though that dropped drastically after new travel safety rules prohibited liquids in carry-on luggage.
In September, the commission proposed a compromise that would have let Muslim cabbies purchase and mount a different-colored light on their cab if they didn’t want to pick up passengers carrying alcohol.
But that proposal triggered a huge backlash, from both passengers and other taxi drivers who feared it would make travelers avoid taxis altogether. Soon the airport commission went the other direction, proposing the stiff penalties for cabbies who refuse service to alcohol-toting passengers.
Douglas Bass, of St. Paul, came to the hearing to argue for what he believes is an important principle.
“I don’t have a problem with people practicing their religion,” Bass said, “I don’t even have a problem with people who want everyone to believe what they believe. But I do have a problem when a majority is being forced to observe other religions and customs.”
Much of the hearing was dedicated to concerns over whether Muslim cabbies would also refuse service to blind passengers with trained guide dogs, because of Muslim prohibitions against interacting with dogs.
Several blind people voiced their concerns, but cabbies at the hearing said such worries aren’t warranted. Refusing service to blind passengers is against federal law.
Abdifatah Abdi, who said he is counseling cabdrivers on legal issues related to the controversy, warned commissioners that instituting the penalty would set off a long legal battle.
“This is a religious freedom issue, and it will not end here,” Abdi said. “It will go to the courts, even the Supreme Court. The drivers will not relinquish their rights to be protected under American law.”
There are other American laws involved here. There were some people a few years back who sat down at lunch counters and at the front of buses to prevent this sort of thing.