Religious Tolerance Ethics: Con

Muslim cab drivers in Manhattan, as well as some other cabbies of discriminating moral tastes, think that they ought to have  the right to veto the placing of advertising on the tops of their cabs that they consider objectionable, notably ads for strip clubs.  Good luck with that, and I am being sarcastic.

The owners of taxi medallions who lease the medallions to drivers, according to Taxi and Limousine Commission rules, now get to decide what advertising to sell for the roofs of their cabs. It’s a privilege they pay for, since the medallions cost $600,000 or more. The cabbies, however, especially those who own their vehicles but still lease the medallions from the cab companies, want the rules to change so that a cabbie wouldn’t have to drive under the image of a professional “girl gone wild.”

The medallion owners are strongly opposed to any change, arguing that they have to cover the costs and liabilities for the cabs, so they should be able to sell any legal advertising, including for strip clubs. And they are 100% right.

Here are the options for any Muslim driver of principle who finds the ads on top of his cab religiously offensive:

  • He can buy his own medallion.
  • He can ask the owner to remove the ad, and quit if he refuses.
  • He can lease a medallion from an owner who promises only to sell ads for Broadway shows, “Up With People,” and broccoli growers.
  • He can find another line of work.

Good options all. What he does not have a right to do, and should not be permitted to do, is to dictate, based on his personal beliefs, what advertising is on top of his car if he’s going to use someone else’s medallion.

I would love to hear one of the conservative advocates of the absurd “conscience clause” laws for pharmacists and other medical personnel explain why the argument by the Muslim cabbies is less reasonable and persuasive than the claims of the anti-gay, anti-birth control, anti-abortion pharmacists. Actually, the proposal by the cabbies is far more reasonable—it only hurts the medallion owner—than allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill lawful prescriptions. And the cabbies are still completely wrong. A reasonable accommodation for an employee’s religion should not require that a business pass up legitimate income sources because that employee finds them offensive. Vegetarian baseball players don’t get to veto sales of hot dogs in the ballpark; religious sit-com stars don’t get to choose which TV commercials air during their shows, and veto the ads for mini-vibrators and that super-duper orgasm-launching lubricant.

This is an ethical line that needs to be drawn definitively and without ambiguity. If you want to operate a business according to religious or moral precepts not embraced by the culture as a whole, fine: run your own business. A religious belief, no matter how strongly felt or admirable, should confer no right for an employee or sub-contractor to interfere with business owners’ rights to make money and run their enterprises as they see fit.


[Thanks to Rick Jones for the tip]

30 thoughts on “Religious Tolerance Ethics: Con

  1. So are you saying that anyone desiring a career in the medical profession such as pharmacy or nursing has to forgo that because they refuse to assist in abortions? Couldn’t pharmacist B or nurse B take over the tasks for pharmacist A and nurse A? From what I’ve heard pharmacists who do run their own businesses are being bullied into dispensing abortive meds. And one hospital,instead of replacing the pro-life nurse with a pro choice one threatened to fire her instead if she refused to assist in an abortion. We aren’t talking objecting to hotdogs and tv ads here. These people honestly feel they are taking a human life,committing murder. Surely there are others who can perform that job for them.

    • Last I heard, abortion is legal in the United States. Jack is absolutely right. If you can’t abide the morals of your employer, get another job.

    • That’s what I’m saying. A professional doesn’t get to pick and choose what legal medical services to distribute. I live in a big metro araea, and there is often no “B” pharmacist at my drug store. The job is to give out prescribed medications according to a doctor’s assessemnt of the needs of a patient. If you won’t do the job, then work somewhere else. Your personal opinion of abortion is irrelevant to your professional duties. Do you really think police officers should have the right not to enforce laws they disagree with? How would that work?

      The conscience argument is nonsense; the principle is unworkable.. You’re not thinking this through.

    • So are you saying that anyone desiring a career in the medical profession such as pharmacy or nursing has to forgo that because they refuse to assist in abortions?

      How often do nurses morally opposed to abortion take jobs in abortion clinics?

      From what I’ve heard pharmacists who do run their own businesses are being bullied into dispensing abortive meds.

      Any source for this?

      • Re question #1: What difference does it make? Whether the answer is one or a million, if they take the job, they have to do the job—ALL of it.
        Re question #2: It’s not bullying, any more than restaurant owners are “bullied” into serving minorities and nationalities they may not like, or that we are “bullied” into driving on the right side of the road. A hospital run by someone who believes alcoholics are vile people does not get to deny them rehab treatment or liver transplants. They do get to open a bicycle shop or a deli, where their moral issues don’t stop them from doing all of their professional duties.

        I am honestly amazed that so many people think there is a valid argument to be made here. It isn’t like being a conscientious objector in wartime—that involves someone trying NOT to work in a field that requires him or her to do what they believe is immoral.

        • What difference does it make? Whether the answer is one or a million, if they take the job, they have to do the job—ALL of it.

          It has to do with the practicality of this issue. I suspect it is not a big issue, because people who are morally opposed to abortion normally do not take jobs as nurses in abortion clinics.

          Any who do should not have taken the job in the first place.

          It’s not bullying, any more than restaurant owners are “bullied” into serving minorities and nationalities they may not like, or that we are “bullied” into driving on the right side of the road.

          The refusal of a pharmacy to offer RU486 is incomparable to restaurant owners refusing to serve minorities and nationalities they may not like. It is comparable to McDonald’s refusing to serve lobster bisque.

            • The refusal of a pharmacy to offer RU486 is incomparable to restaurant owners refusing to serve minorities and nationalities they may not like. It is comparable to McDonald’s refusing to serve lobster bisque.

              This is because when restaurant owners refuse to serve minorities, their refusal is based upon whom the customer is. When pharmacies refuse to offer RU486, or McDonald’s refuses to offer lobster bisque, the refusal is based upon the service being offered.

              • Still a bad analogy. Nobody needs to have lobster, and there is no duty to provide it. A pharmacy is obligated to offer all legal products and services, or their equivalent, required for a citizen’s health. Serving a steak rather than a lobster means that a customer still won’t be hungry. Withholding the drug, however, means that the customer will be pregnant.

    • Addendum to that: abortion isn’t merely legal; according to the Supreme Court (they are wrong, but they are the boss in this matter, not me), abortion is a right.. Pharmacies are licensed, like hospitals. The decision not to provide a health-related service that citizens have a right to access in a profession that you have been licensed to provide is far more of a basic ethics violation than refusing to drive with pictures of sexy women on top of your car.

  2. Abortion hasn’t always been legal or a right. The Constitution does not support the right to take an unborn human life and I doubt the founders even thought of such a thing. If it became law for a pharmacist to dispense a toxin or for a nurse to inject a toxin into anyone over the age of eighty just because the court decides everyone over eighty must die would that be fine with you as well? I am thinking it through. A human being is a human being whether she’s in the womb or eighty years old. If it’s not a human baby you aren’t pregnant. People who are against this goes beyond the religious folks as well. We all feel that killing another human being is wrong,as is stealing,etc.whether we’re religious or not. Most people who are against abortion aren’t against it simply because they like stomping on women’s rights or for any other reason than they feel it’s wrong to kill a human,regardless of age… and that includes abortion providers. I thought perhaps you could feel some empathy for that. Some pro-abortionists are beginning to understand and I’m thankful for that.

    • Karla, you are deluded. You don’t decide what the law and the rights of citizens are…the Constitution does. You arguments are irrelevant—the Supreme Court, per the Constitution, settles the issue. I agree with your basic contention—abortion shouldn’t be a Federal right, and Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. But until that is changed, no citizen has the right to interfere with the right to have an abortion. That’s the law; that’s reality.If you object to abortion, DON’T GET INTO A PROFESSION THAT REQUIRES OR INVOLVES ASSISTING IN ABORTIONS!!!!!!!!

      And, with all due respect, “Duh.”

    • It makes it LEGAL. And the SCOTUS says it is a RIGHT. A right cannot legally be denied. You can choose to defy a law you believ is wrong…and you can agree to go to jail or be fined…that’s the deal .Read your Thoreau.

  3. For Michael: ” Because he believes that “Plan B” contraception can cause an abortion in some circumstances, Luke Vander Bleek, owner of pharmacies in Whiteside and DeKalb counties in Illinois, doesn’t want to sell it. When Gov. Rod Blagojevich handed down an executive order, later made permanent by a legislative panel, requiring all pharmacists to dispense the product, Vander Bleek filed a lawsuit.

    On a 2-to-1 vote, the 4th District Appellate Court dismissed the lawsuit. Justice John Turner dissented, pointing to the Governor’s statements that he would take “any and all steps” to force pharmacists to distribute the morning after pill.

    The Governor was pleased by the ruling, stating that “there is no provision in our laws that will let a pharmacist deny a patient access to healthcare.”

    “What is so absurd about this is that physicians can object by simply not perfoming abortions or any other procedure they find objectionable. Pharmacists, on the other hand are not viewed as professionals and have no rights other than an obligation to serve the public by doing what the public “wants”.

    • Nothing absurd about it whatsoever. Doctors specialize. That is in the nature of the profession. Pharmacists have a specific jo.b and duty. Blago is a crook and a fool, but he was right about this one.

    • The first is illegal. The second isn’t. Restaurants can make certain requirements, but not on the basis of age, race, ethnic origin, handicapped status, etc. You apparently missed all that civil rights stuff. It was in all the papers.

  4. “The Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly prohibits restaurants from refusing service to patrons on the basis of race, color, religion, or natural origin.” Does that include language spoken or age? Maybe so. I have been in restaurants with signs stating they have the right to refuse service but perhaps it depends on what your being deprived of service for. My mother owned a restaurant and one customer would come in and order coffee and proceed to table hop dirtying up several place settings. He did this daily. She finally refused to serve him. Another customer wrote rubber checks,another stole silverware. One began picketing her place saying she was racist. Another called the ACLU. Fortunately nothing came of either.
    I really enjoy your articles,Jack. Even the ones we don’t agree on. Keep up the good work!

  5. What I find interesting here is the journalism (using that term loosely, of course) even more than the story. The first word of the headline in the linked article: “Muslims.” In the first clause of the story: “a holy war.”

    Except, of course, it isn’t. While it may be true that the majority (or even entirety) of the protesting cabbies are Muslim, their objections seem grounded in secular moral/ethical concerns rather than in religion. After all, if they were being forced to do something specifically contrary to their religion, they’d have a). said so, and b). sued. No, they, like virtually anyone else in their position would be, are “self-conscious while tooling about in conservative communities.” All the cabbies gathered at a gas station were unhappy about having their cabs advertise an unseemly business. They are represented by people like Alseeny Sagno, who says “I’m an honorable man trying to run an honorable business!” (both quotations from the New York Post article on the subject).

    Moreover, they’re simply trying to change the rules. I don’t know whether the Taxi and Limousine Commission has the right to limit what businesses can be advertised atop taxis and/or what those ads look like—that’s a vexing 1st amendment issue on the one hand and an equally problematic legal and jurisdictional headache on the other—but it’s not unreasonable to ask not to be associated with the commodification of sex.

    It strikes me that there are some infringements on a totally free-enterprise system that would be supported by most of us: a minimum wage, OSHA regulations, etc. (we might disagree about details, but not about general concepts). And I agree with your argument that a pharmacist doesn’t get to decide whether or not to dispense this or that drug. But the reason is that it is the professional responsibility of that person as pharmacist to provide whatever legal drugs are prescribed by a physician. But I see this as a false analogy.

    Taxi drivers also have at least an implicit code of ethics: they’re not allowed to discriminate against potential passengers on the basis of race or gender or religion, for example. It is, in short, what is required of cabbies everywhere. But the specific circumstances here have nothing to do with an intrinsic requirement of the profession: there’s no ethical responsibility as cabbie to drive under a sign advertising what the Post reporters so charmingly refer to as “jiggle joints.”

    This is not to deny that obligation, but it is a duty imposed by not owning the medallion, not by virtue of the occupation itself. It is, in other words, about business, not profession, if that distinction is clear in these terms.

    I agree that the drivers are currently obligated to drive under whatever signs the medallion-owner prescribes. Indeed, they seem to be doing so. They don’t like it, but as the great sage Mick Jagger reminds us, you can’t always get what you want. This doesn’t mean, however, that they are proscribed from seeking to change the rules, and that appears to be all that’s happening. Moreover, it wouldn’t break my heart if the next time I’m in New York I don’t see advertising for strip clubs—the same way I have managed to endure not seeing cigarette advertising.

    Ultimately, I’m not going to decide my opinion on the details of this case based on a couple of short feature stories in the tabloid press. But I don’t see the cabbies’ concerns as unreasonable, and I don’t think it hurts to ask. But at least as importantly: this issue has nothing whatsoever to do with the drivers’ religion.

    • A couple of things:

      1) I muddied things up by raising the pharmacy issue, though I stand by the point: because of the Muslim connection, many of the same people who champion the conscience exception for druggists would oppose the cabbies here, and what I said was that I’d love to hear their tortured reasoning in doing that, because the pharmacy conscience exception was far less defensible than what the cabbies are proposing. It wasn’t intended as an analogy, although one of the underlying principles is the same: you take the job, you do the job.

      2) I do object to the veto on principle. If a cabbie union negotiates a veto, fine, but I think a veto over advertising is neither fair to the medallion owners nor right. Does the guy who flips signs or the guy who wears a sandwich board get veto power over what the sign says? Do baseball players get veto power over the signs in the stadium? No, no, no—and they shouldn’t have it, either. Nobody reasonably attributes the service or product advertised in the tent on a cab to the cabbie.

      3) Sure, it’s just a rule, but the law letting pharmacists send women across town to get their birth control pills if they aren’t married is a rule too. Both are unethical rules, based on flawed views of fairness, autonomy and responsibility. A few years ago, an NBA player argued that he shouldn’t have to stand with his team for the National Anthem, as the NBA player agreement specifically requires. The NBA and the union told him he could stand, or do something else with his 7 foot body, like pick oranges. Good for the NBA. No conscience exception warranted.

      4) I agree that the Muslim headline isn’t justified by the facts in the story, though logically, given the number of Muslim cab drivers in NYC, I think you have to say religion is at least a factor. a) the cabs have been advertising strip clubs a long time, and the issue seems to be surfacing now, as the demographic is changing b) we would assume that the ads would be especially offensive to Muslims.

  6. Oh please, the medallion owners are a bunch of thieves. Having a medallion doesn’t make a cab safer or cleaner or better, it’s just a way for the current medallion owners to rake in money from the cabbies doing the actual work. You say the cabbies could buy a their own medallions, but that’s nonsense: The city of New York doesn’t issue medallions any more. They’ve artificially limited the number of cabs allowed in the city, largely at the behest of current medallion owners in order to maintain the inflated price. The cabbies supply the labor and the capital (the car) and yet they’re in thrall to the politically-connected medallion owners. Now they try to gain a little freedom, and you think that’s what’s unethical here? The right thing to do is to abolish the medallion system and replace it with a simple business license like everything else.

    • All true. The same is more or less true of airports and gates. I’m not writing about the medallion system, but you did an admirable job of explaining why it stinks.

      So the real question I have for you is: do you use the gypsy cab drivers and the free-lancing cars who don’t have medalllions and who every sign and message says to avoid?

  7. I guess I just thought that the medallion system kind of undermined your main point, with which I agree. Employees have the right to argue with their bosses over objectionable advertising or whether the company serves animal meat to customers, and if they can win that negotiation, good for them, but these kinds of things don’t rise to the level of rights.

    I don’t live in a downtown area, so I haven’t had to take a cab anywhere in 10 years, but I’d probably avoid the unlicensed cabbies unless I knew the drivers because it’s hard to know who to trust in an underground economy.

    • That’s sensible—but what about the ethical issue? NYC takes the position that a cabbie can’t just go to work for himself, and regulation in that field is appropriate—but they do that using the medallion system. For a rider, standing against the medallions means risking mayhem. But if we are serious about busting the medallion system, that’s probably what has to happen.

      Oh…I enjoy your site a great deal, one of the very best of the city-oriented blogs, and I check a lot of them.

  8. Jack,I have a quick question if I may. Years ago my family rented a small apartment to a gay couple. I know there are landlords who would want to deny gays the apartment. How would the couple go about proving they were being discriminated against if the landlord didn’t give their being gay as a reason for the denial? I’ve often wondered about this.

    • It’s very hard to prove, just as red-lining and housing discrimination on the basis of race is hard to prove. That’s why most such couples just find a landlord who isn’t a bigot. It’s not worth the fight, most of the time.

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