|Posted on Monday, March 19, 2007 - 08:42 am: ||
Some Muslim cashiers refuse to handle pork products
By Chris Serres and Matt McKinney
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
MINNEAPOLIS - 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 Quran 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, www.buzz.mn. 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.
The Twin Cities area has become a hotbed for such conflicts because of its burgeoning population of Somali immigrants, many of whom are orthodox Muslims. Last year, Somali cabdrivers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport attracted national attention when some refused to carry passengers toting alcohol.
Dr. Shah Khan, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Minnesota in Fridley, said the Somali Muslim community is divided between those who believe it is wrong only to eat pork and more orthodox Muslims who believe the prohibition extends to selling, touching or handling the meat.
He urged people to remember the extraordinary adjustments many Somalis have made. "Many of these people are refugees. They may have been tortured. And they came here having never held a book in English," he said. "They're already adapting to our society. We need to adapt to them, too."
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."
Supervalu, the nation's third largest supermarket chain and the parent company of Cub Foods, moves new employees into jobs that don't interfere with their moral beliefs, said Haley Meyer, a company spokeswoman.
Retailers have accommodated other religious groups over the years. In the Twin Cities, these include those who don't want to sell lottery tickets or work on Saturdays, said Bernie Hesse, local organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 789. Supermarkets in particular have been good about recognizing their employees' religious observances, he said.
"If we ever get to the point of selling wine in grocery stores, I imagine some folks will be excused from doing that," Hesse said.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for a person's religious practices if it doesn't impose an undue hardship.
A customer's personal preferences is usually not a factor in deciding whether a religious practice is protected in the workplace, noted Khadija Athman, national civil rights manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington.
In most cases, a cashier should be able to call over another cashier who can scan a product and the shopper shouldn't be inconvenienced, Athman noted. "If the employee is rude and gasps at the sight of pork, then it's a different situation," she said.
Jonathan Sigelman, a local attorney, said he wasn't bothered when a cashier called for assistance after he showed up at the checkout lane with a package of turkey bacon. He explained to the cashier that turkey bacon did not contain pork, and the cashier agreed to scan it.
"It might have delayed my purchase 15 seconds at the most," Sigelman said.
Some legal experts said cashiers who avoid pork in a checkout line are different from taxi drivers at the airport who refuse customers carrying alcohol. "I think in general we expect taxi drivers to pick up all fares," said Eric Janus, the vice dean of William Mitchell College of Law. "That's part of what it means to be a taxi driver."
A supermarket cashier, on the other hand, is not under the same legal obligation to serve all customers, though the store may be. As long as another cashier is available to serve the customer, there should be no problem, said Janus.
The cashiers' example holds a similar legal ground to pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control or morning-after pills, a practice that has led to differing legal opinions in some states as many legislatures decide to take on the issue.
"It gets a little more difficult in the pharmacy world if you're dealing with a 24-hour pharmacy and the only pharmacist on duty is refusing to fill prescriptions," said Stephen Befort, a professor at the University of Minnesota College of Law.
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, 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."
---Liberals become indignant when you question their patriotism, but simultaneously work overtime to give terrorists a cushion for the next attack and laugh at dumb Americans who love their country and hate the enemy.