Saturday, August 13, 2016

Religious Accommodation in a Diverse Society: Is It Still Possible?

We've previously discussed religious accommodations in employment and education. It's hard to find agreement on these issues. What is important or sacred to one person may be minor, downright stupid or immoral to someone else. Even people who have otherwise supported broad religious accommodations have also recognized the danger that unlimited religious exemptions poses to many societal mores or laws. Religious freedom can't be a "I don't have to do anything you say" card. I am not religious though I mostly respect those who are. I don't think that we can make a general rule about when religious accommodations should be made. There are just too many different religions and dissimilar ways of experiencing the world. We must examine situations case by case. Most of us will probably agree that we shouldn't force people to violate their strongly held moral or religious beliefs absent an equally pressing moral claim. We can say that we won't allow religious claims to override actual physical harm to another human (but in the case of circumcision of infant boys we do just that while holding to that belief to outlaw FGM). We either don't permit or strongly discourage people of the Hindu faith from burning offerings and throwing them in the local river. The idea of "physical harm" is of course subject to our subjective ideas about damage. While I grudgingly admit that the relevant or applicable state laws might require it, my personal bias is that I am queasy at forcing an objecting photographer, painter or baker to produce goods or services for a gay wedding. I'm skeptical that the alleged harm outweighs the individual's right to expression. But religious accommodation is available to people of all faiths. Religious accommodation is not just something used by "backwards" conservative Christians to "mess with" liberals and gays. Religious accommodation is about more than gays and birth control. Some Orthodox Jews in NYC have worked it out so that some public pools are separated by gender at certain times of the day. I have a problem with this arrangement because everyone is paying taxes for this. Other Orthodox Jewish men have refused to sit next to women on airplanes. I have no sympathy for their claim. If they want to move they should do so but the woman shouldn't move nor should the plane be delayed. An Orthodox Jewish woman obtained a job offer as a 24/7 oncall data manager but only then informed her putative employer, the Dallas County Sheriff's office, that she would need to leave work before sundown on Friday. Always. Additionally she wouldn't be answering the phone or driving during the sabbath. So if there was an emergency during that time period obviously she would be unavailable. The Sheriff's office withdrew the offer and since this is America the woman sued. I don't think she should get anything because she can't fulfill the job's core requirements. Some Muslims, who are required to pray five times a day, sued their employer because they don't think the employer is making enough of an accommodation to their prayer needs. As the country becomes more diverse these problems will occur more frequently.

I think an employer should try to be reasonable (and that's what the law requires as far as I know) but I also can't have half my staff disappearing for 10-20 minutes or more for three times during the workday, especially if I am in a business where productivity is easily measured and has an immediate impact on profit. Other Muslim taxi drivers have tried refusing to pick up blind people with guard dogs or have refused to allow women to sit next to them. So one person's religious freedom or accommodation is often another person's unfair discrimination or special treatment. I heard about the Charee Stanley vs. ExpressJet case while listening to the radio on my commute home. I thought that it was an example of where things have probably gone too far.
A Muslim flight attendant is suing ExpressJet after it suspended her for refusing to serve passengers alcohol. The lawsuit accuses the airline of “revoking a reasonable religious accommodation and wrongfully suspending her from her employment,” the Council on American-Islam Relations Michigan Chapter said in a release Tuesday.
On Aug. 25, 2015, Charee Stanley was placed on unpaid leave after a colleague complained about her refusal to serve customers alcohol — which she did in deference to her religion. 

Stanley was hired by ExpressJet before converting to Islam, and was later asked to make arrangements for the flight attendant on duty to fulfill alcohol requests. Stanley poured all non-alcoholic beverages. “It was obviously seen as a reasonable accommodation and it was working for dozens of flights — so it was not an accommodation that was burdensome nor restricted people from getting alcohol on the flight,” Dawud Walid, Executive Director of the CAIR-MI, told the Daily News in an interview.

But in August, after Stanley's new partner complained, the airline lifted the accommodation. Stanley was placed on unpaid leave “and on track for eventual termination for her requesting an accommodation of being allowed to not personally serve alcohol rather than abandoning her religious belief and practice,” according to the lawsuit.

It's important to note that the EEOC dismissed Stanley's complaint without deciding if the airline broke the law. Now I don't drink so I would not be impacted by Stanley's refusal to serve alcohol. But just as with the Christian bakers or photographers being forced to provide services to gay weddings, when you serve the public sometimes you end up doing things that don't line up 100% with your religious or moral beliefs. If we're going to play hardball with that baker then we have to do the same with Stanley. If not serving alcohol is of supreme importance to Stanley then the proper next step for her is to find a job that better fits her religion. As a country we can't allow one religion to constantly win workplace accommodations while another religion constantly loses. That's not fair. It adds to bad blood. It seems as if some people suing for religious accommodation are crossing the line between seeking to live according to their religion and making other people live according to their religion. Occasionally serving alcohol is part of the job of being a stewardess flight attendant. It's minor but if you can't do it then you should find something else. You couldn't be a vet or pet groomer and refuse to touch dogs because your religion finds them unclean. Things are starting to get ridiculous in my non-legal opinion when Somali Muslim delivery drivers can refuse to deliver loads which contain alcohol and actually win a $240,000 judgment against their employer. To me it all depends on whether your religious accommodation request involves a critical part of your job. If profoundly devout people or more likely people of certain faiths or sects obtain a reputation for trying to make their workplace bend to their will, there's a non zero chance that some employers will do what they can to not hire certain people, illegal though that is. And that's lose-lose for everyone.

What's your take on these stories?

Has the demand for religious accommodation gone too far?

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