Column Date 2006-10-01

The tyranny of the minority

Have you caught up with the story about the Muslim cab drivers who are refusing to pick up any passengers carrying alcohol at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport?

In other words, if you get off an international flight, say, carrying a bottle of wine in a duty-free bag, they won’t allow you into their cabs. Why? Because the Koran says they should not buy, sell, drink or carry alcohol. (Carrying drunks in your taxi is apparently OK. It’s just people carrying alcohol.)

Of course, they’re entitled to their religious beliefs and to live their lives as they wish. But one might ask what these folks are doing in the taxi business – where they are licensed by the government to provide a service to the public?

The implications of this are staggering.

Will we have Orthodox Jewish cab drivers refusing to pick up anyone carrying pork? Hindu cab drivers driving right past ranchers and cowboys who might have herded sacred cattle? Or even Vegan cab drivers turning down service to anyone carrying a Big Mac?

And why only cab drivers imposing their personal beliefs on the rest of us?

If this kind of thinking catches on, we could soon see an Evangelical bus driver refusing to stop for passengers in a Wiccan neighborhood.

Or a secular, left-wing, liberal traffic cop giving out speeding tickets to any car sporting a “Limbaugh for President” bumper sticker.

And why not a right-wing-conservative MTA train conductor refusing service to anyone who can’t produce a green card?

Which brings us to sports fans – a group as opinionated and irrational and, yes, religious about their favorite teams as any people on earth. (If you pray for Derek Jeter to get a hit and win the game in the bottom of the ninth, that makes you religious in my book.)

I’ll never forget the subtlety and sophistication of a bumper sticker I saw in Boston a couple of years ago. It simply read “F--K THE YANKEES.” If that person turns out to be an IRS tax inspector, all of us Yankee fans are in trouble. Claiming a tax deduction for box seats in Yankee Stadium will certainly invite a major audit.

Tricky questions arise: if a city sanitation worker, for example, is a rabid Yankees fan and notices a “Go Mets!” sign in a house window, can he refuse, on emotional or religious grounds, to take away that person’s garbage? Does he have to call headquarters for back-up – to get the garbage removed by a Mets fan, or an impartial and baseball-neutral sanitation worker?

And can you even consider hiring a graduate of Ohio State for your law firm after they’ve trampled your sacred University of Michigan Wolverines? Where does a rational person draw the line?

All this deserves serious thought, and I’m afraid that the anti-alcohol stance of the Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis could just be the start.

When private religious beliefs trump the public interest and the common good, we’re in for some rocky times.

©2006 Peter Tannen