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November 2, 2015

Religious Accommodation, or Political Favoritism?

Muslims win concessions not available to Christians.

For the Obama administration, some religious accommodations are, to borrow a phrase, “more equal than others.”

In Illinois, a jury awarded two Muslim truck drivers $240,000 in damages and back pay after their claims that being forced to transport alcohol constituted religious discrimination were upheld by U.S. District Court Judge James E. Shadid, a Barack Obama appointee. The Somalian Muslims, Mahad Abass Mohamed and Abdkiarim Hassan Bulshale, worked for the Star Transport trucking company based in Morton, Illinois, and were fired in 2009.

Shadid made his ruling in March, when Star Transport admitted liability. Yet the most telling element of the case was that both men were represented by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which took up the case in 2013. The EEOC asserted Star Transport had violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires accommodations for employees’ religious convictions provided those accommodations do not present an “undue hardship.” The EEOC insisted its investigation revealed the trucking company “could have readily avoided assigning these employees to alcohol delivery without any undue hardship, but chose to force the issue despite the employees’ Islamic religion.”

According to UCLA Law professor Eugene Volokh, the court explained the trucking company was able to “swap loads between drivers” on several occasions and conceded that it could have accommodated this request as well. Yet the company insisted it shouldn’t be held liable for punitive damages. “This concession was important, and if Star Transport had fought the case, and shown that such a swap would indeed be difficult … it should have won,” Volokh writes. “But when accommodating an employee just requires a bit of extra administrative hassle … the federal Civil Rights Act requires the employer to do this.”

The jury apparently agreed, taking only 45 minutes to deliver its verdict on Oct. 20. All well and good, save for a jarring note of boasting added by EEOC General Counsel David Lopez following the decision. “EEOC is proud to support the rights of workers to equal treatment in the workplace without having to sacrifice their religious beliefs or practices,” he said. “This is fundamental to the American principles of religious freedom and tolerance.”

June Calhoun, one of the EEOC attorneys involved in the litigation, was even more ecstatic. “This is an awesome outcome,” she reveled. “Star Transport failed to provide any discrimination training to its human resources personnel, which led to catastrophic results for these employees. They suffered real injustice that needed to be addressed. By this verdict, the jury remedied the injustice by sending clear messages to Star Transport and other employers that they will be held accountable for their unlawful employment practices. Moreover, they signaled to Mr. Mohamed and Mr. Bulshale that religious freedom is a right for all.”

For the Left, however, “discrimination training” is a rather one-sided affair. Christians have certain beliefs with regard to same-sex marriage, yet when it comes to an accommodation for those beliefs Christians must accommodate homosexuals. Thus when Sweet Cakes bakery shop refused to bake a cake for a lesbian wedding, a ceremony owners Aaron and Melissa Klein insisted was a violation of their religious convictions, the Oregon commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries ordered the couple to pay $135,000 in damages for emotional and mental suffering arising from the denial of service. By contrast, Azucar Bakery, a homosexual-run business in Denver, was exonerated by the Colorado Civil Rights Division for refusing to decorate a cake with biblical passages for William Jack, a Christian from Castle Rock who wanted those decorations to reflect the idea same-sex marriage was “un-biblical and inappropriate.”

Yet perhaps the key word in the case involving the Muslim truck drivers wasn’t “alcohol,” but “transport.” The Koran forbids the ingestion of “intoxicants,” with a number of hadiths (quotes from Muhammad) citing that reality. Yet one is left to wonder how the transportation of alcohol was conflated with its ingestion. Another Obama appointee, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, made a similar ruling in the case of 19-year-old Umme-Hani Khan, who alleged religious discrimination when Abercrombie & Fitch fired her for wearing a hijab to work at one of its stores. A&F had a policy against head covers of any kind for its employees, and once again, while the Koran urges Muslim women to dress “modestly,” the hijab is not required by Islamic code.

It doesn’t take much of an imagination to guess where the Obama administration would come down if two Christian truck drivers refused to transport abortifacients to the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic. Until Judge Richard J. Leon of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against it in September, the administration had insisted March for Life must provide the abortion-inducing drugs to employees through its health care plan — or face fines of $36,500 per worker per year. That followed a similar 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in 2014 in favor of Christian-run Hobby Lobby. Nonetheless, seven other non-profit organizations are filing lawsuits in the hopes of a Supreme Court hearing with regard to the same issue.

In other words, when it comes to Christians and their beliefs, the Obama administration seems quite determined to run roughshod over them, one lawsuit after another, even after the Supreme Court has clarified the issue.

The American Left in general is no different. Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis was excoriated for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with the prevailing idea she should find somewhere else to work if she couldn’t abide her job requirements. Those would be job requirements that were changed by the Supreme Court after Davis had been employed. It is highly unlikely the Muslim truck drivers were unaware the alcohol deliveries would be part of their job assignment, or that Khan was unaware of A&F’s policy. Regardless, Davis was jailed, Mohamed and Bulsahle won $240,000 and Khan awaits a trial for damages — even as the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that another Muslim woman, Samantha Elauf, was denied her right to religious accommodation by the same store chain for the same reason.

Sadly, a growing contempt for Christian beliefs has never been more in vogue. At the same time, the oh-so tolerant and secular Left has a soft spot for Islam, a religion with a far less charitable approach to homosexuals and women in particular, and infidels in general, than anything Christianity espouses. It is a temporary alliance of convenience aimed at taking out those both groups see as a greater threat: conservatives in general, and Christians in particular, in the best “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” tradition.

Last April, a video of Muslim bakers in Michigan refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding went viral, garnering 2.2 million viewers in only three days. No doubt some of the viewers wonder when the EEOC and the Obama administration will be filing suit. Chances are, they’ll be wondering forever.

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