Public Policy and Intolerance in Commerce
As Pam recaps in her post, the original article in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune explains that cities across the U.S. and other countries have been grappling with demands by persons of certain religious affiliations for exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. As an example of such discrimination, some Muslim cab drivers refuse to transport blind people with seeing-eye dogs because dogs are haram ("unclean") according to the Qur'an.
Officials in Minneapolis have rejected the two-tiered system that would have allowed cab drivers at the airport to discriminate without having to go to the back of the line and start again waiting to pick up a fare. The reasoning behind the (Minneapolis) Metropolitan Airport Commission rejection of the Muslim cab drivers' request for exemption was that allowing Muslim drivers to decline fares without sanction "would amount to an acknowledgement that Shari'a, or Islamic law, is relevant to a routine commercial transaction." Moreover, and beyond the immediate matter of the Muslim cab drivers, making such an accommodation would likely be the first step onto a slippery slope where other groups claiming religious reasons for discrimination in commercial transactions would press their own demands for exemptions based upon a variety of religious tenets.
In the comments thread to Pam's post, I set forth a fundamental argument against government recognizing a commercial operation's right to discriminate, even when such discrimination arises as an expression of strict adherence to religious beliefs held by the owners or employees. In edited and extended form, I herewith present my statement originally published on that thread.
First, and as a general matter, the issue has to do with what is called "public policy." If we are to dispense with a world where government does not or should not exist, then we must accept that government has a duty to enact and enforce certain laws that promote order within the civil society. That means no business that anticipates earning revenues in that society may be permitted to act in a way that has been deemed contrary to what is right, just, and appropriate for securing, maintaining, and advancing that society. In a democracy, this ultimately places an affirmative and altogether compelling burden on the electorate to ensure that those who write laws promoting public policy see that such policy indeed expresses rightful action, just in its foundations and expressly beneficial to the good of the society.
In other words, it is a cop-out simply to throw up one's hands and say, "Every man for himself." It is far more difficult to be a responsible citizen insisting that decency and tolerance be the unwavering, guiding principles in determining what is public policy. Consequentially, it is the duty of the citizen to promote good public policy through the election of just, fair, and reasonable representatives and furthermore to actively participate in continuing dialogue with those elected representatives to ensure that they do not stray from proposing and enacting laws that ensure a fair and tolerant society for all, not merely for some.
Furthermore, once a reasoned and well-debated public policy is put into law and operation, both individuals and businesses must expect that, if they are to garner all of the benefits of the society and its embedded economy, they must abide by those rules. To the extent that they elect to do otherwise, they face not merely the risk of civil or criminal action, but also the certain scorn of the public at large for behaving in a manner that deviates from societal expectations.
Important to acknowledge in what has just been stated is that a society, acting through laws, regulations, and the very community, itself, can be neither authoritarian nor completely libertine: in the former case, the most mean-spirited and parochial expectations will be laid upon the members of a society; and in the latter, the public sector will have utterly abandoned to human nature, base as it would inevitably become, the duty to carefully, parsimoniously, and with good intentions shape the behaviors of its members. This, then, is the necessary dutydemanding as it does eternal vigilanceof the ideal society: that it not act with an iron and overbearing fist to impose strict standards of behavior, but neither that it for even a moment ignore its responsibility to appropriately but minimally circumscribe personal and commercial action.
Now, to the second point, related to, but more specific than, the first. Cab drivers earn their living by using the public's facilities: its streets, its sidewalks, and its other pedestrian and motorized traffic infrastructure. That means they are using what is not exclusively theirs, and as such, they must accept that public rules, not their own, are what matter. The cab drivers use that which the public pays to build, maintain, and upgrade, so they do not get a free ride either in terms of safety, licensing, and operating standards or in terms of actual conduct toward those who would use their services.
If they wish to engage in discrimination, first, they should find a society where public policy either does not exist or where laws or lack thereof express support for intolerance; and second, they should use only what they pay for and own completely and exclusively. It is wholly unacceptable and in no small measure inexcusable for the intolerant to expect a just, tolerant, and right society to allow them to conduct commercial operations using the public's facilities while ignoring the expressed will of that society for its members to be in their own conduct just, tolerant, and right.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.