Muslim cabbies refuse to take passengers with alcohol

MIAMI - OK, let's say you fly into Minneapolis-St. Paul. Let's say you're carrying alcohol - rum from the Caribbean, a Merlot you found in Napa Valley. Let's say you try to hail a cab while carrying said alcohol.

Good luck. You're going to need it.

Three quarters of the drivers serving the airport are Muslims, most from Somalia, and in recent years, many have refused to carry passengers carrying alcohol because Islam frowns on liquor. Dozens of passengers have reportedly been left stranded. Occasionally, even blind people using seeing eye dogs have been refused passage by drivers citing Islamic teachings that the saliva of dogs is unclean.

After simmering for years, the issue has come to a boil. Recently, the local airport commission scheduled a public hearing to discuss stiffening penalties for the wayward cabbies. As things now stand, a driver who refuses to carry you and your booze has to go back to the end of the cab line and wait hours for another fare. According to a report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, new rules have been proposed which would require a 30-day suspension for a first offense and revocation of a cabbie's airport license for two years after the second.

Sounds good to me, but Khalid Elmasry disagrees. He's spokesman for a group called the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. Here's the MASM's idea: Color code the taxis according to whether the drivers accept alcohol.

Yeah, because flying is not enough of a hassle already.

"... We will not see this perfect solution," wrote Elmasry in USA Today, "even though it meets everyone's needs. In an environment of fear and misunderstanding of everything Muslim, tolerance has become too much to ask."

In a word: baloney. Out of deference to religious sensibilities, we'll make it all-beef baloney but still: baloney.

This is not intolerance. It's not Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a Muslim, taking his oath of office on a Koran and being tortured for it by xenophobes.

Rather, it is a group of men who refuse to do their jobs You're entitled to your religious beliefs. You're not entitled to require your employer or customers to go to extraordinary lengths to accommodate those beliefs.

If this all sounds familiar to you, it's because we've seen this movie before. Two years ago, the news was full of Christian pharmacists who cited religious reasons in refusing to fill prescriptions for the "morning after" anti-contraception pill, or provide birth control to unmarried women. Different religion, same hubris, same eagerness to impose one's own moral standards upon others.

And what's next? Will the drivers refuse to serve homosexuals or Jews or women without veils? Will we let everybody in every profession reject any customer whose race, culture, religion, or moral choices offend?

No. Because that is anathema to this nation's ideals. And the sooner certain Muslim cabbies - and Christian pharmacists - understand that, the better. To stand shivering in a Minneapolis winter waiting on a color-coded taxi would prove "tolerance" only of religious extremists who think the world must accommodate itself to their beliefs.

You want a "perfect solution?" Fine, here it is: Muslim cabbies should do their jobs. Period.

Leonard Pitts Jr., a columnist for the Miami Herald, can be reached at lpitts@miamiherald.com.