Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Religious Discrimination Rears its Head in Minnesota

You know, there are some things that when you read it, you think “Why on earth is this a big deal?!” That was exactly my thinking when I read the following news article from the Star Tribune. (you can read the article in its entirety here:

Customer Service and Faith clash at registers

Beryl Dsouza was late and in no mood for delays when she stopped at a Target store after work two weeks ago for milk, bread and bacon. So Dsouza was taken aback when the cashier -- who had on the traditional headscarf, or hijab, worn by many Muslim women -- refused to swipe the bacon through the checkout scanner.

"She made me scan the bacon. Then she opened the bag and made me put it in the bag," said Dsouza, 53, of Minneapolis. "It made me wonder why this person took a job as a cashier."

In the latest example of religious beliefs creating tension in the workplace, some Muslims in the Twin Cities are adhering to a strict interpretation of the Qur'an that prohibits the handling of pork products. Instead of swiping the items themselves, they are asking non-Muslim employees or shoppers to do it for them.

It has set off a firestorm of comments -- more than 400, as of Tuesday evening -- on the Star Tribune's community blog, People called the newspaper from as far as Tokyo to voice their opinion. It remains unclear how many Muslim cashiers in the Twin Cities are declining to ring up pork sales….

Target released this statement in response: "Providing guests with consistently fast checkouts is a key, fundamental part of our business and our guest service commitment. As always, we continue to explore reasonable solutions that consider the concerns of team members while ensuring that we maintain our ability to provide the highest level of guest service."

Some people see the Muslims' actions as evidence of an unwillingness to adapt to the American workplace, and to the society as a whole.

"It's about one ethnic group imposing its own beliefs on the rest of us," said Manny Laureano, 51, of Plymouth, who plays trumpet for the Minnesota Orchestra. "It goes against the whole idea of this country as different groups of people who came together to create a single culture."

Now you would think that, based on the subsequent firestorm that has erupted, that these employees had whipped out a sword, shouted “Alla Ackbar!” and threatened to chop heads off if pork were ever purchased again. No, they simply refused to compromise their own religious beliefs and either got the customer to scan their own item or called another employee over to have the item scanned. Now many people are basically demanding that Target practice religious discrimination (without saying as much) by either firing employees who don’t want to scan pork or moving these employees to other positions regardless of the fact that having someone else come over and scan the item might inconvenience the customer by maybe two minutes. And of course, there are all the arguments of “Well, they shouldn’t have worked there in the first place” or “See?! See!? Muslims are taking over America!! Ship them all back!!” But let’s stop and consider this for a minute.

Suppose that you’re a Christian and work as a cashier at Barnes and Nobles. It is your deeply held religious conviction that pornography is reprehensibly wrong. Because this is your belief, you have requested of your manager that whenever someone purchases something such as a Playboy magazine, that you not be required to ring it up. The bad news is that you cannot stop them from purchasing the magazine. The good news is that the law is on your side. Unless it creates an undue hardship on the employer, they are required to provide reasonable accommodation, which might mean having the employee standing next to you ring up the purchase. You would not be imposing your beliefs (and suggested by the guy quoted in the last paragraph of the article) by doing so, simply standing firm and not letting others impose on you.

Although I do not agree with the Muslim’s beliefs regarding pork (mmmm, bacon!), I certainly applaud them for not being willing to compromise. (Besides, is it really all that inconveniencing to have to scan and bag your own pork?! Please.) Civil rights laws are in place for a reason, and as a Christian, it scares me to think what can happen should things like this escalate to a point where religious discrimination isn’t frowned on any longer. Preventing discrimination based on religious beliefs (or other factors such as gender, race, etc) is, I believe, what contributes to making America the great nation that it is.

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