- - Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Everyone is entitled to his faith and his expression of it, but there’s a gray area between the inner experience of worship and how its outer expression affects the lives of others. This leads to difficult judgments on how far society must go to accommodate the practice of faith. For Christians in the Age of Obama, the answer is sometimes not very far; for Muslims, a little farther. If religious beliefs cannot be used as an excuse for discrimination, neither should faith be deployed to gain privilege.

The holiday season took on new meaning in Fort Morgan, Colo., when 190 Somali Muslim immigrants stayed home from their jobs at a Cargill Meat Solutions processing plant to protest a policy they said didn’t provide them enough time during the work day to recite their prayers. When they failed to appear for work after three days, they were fired in accordance with their employment contract. An assembly line, or in this case, a disassembly line, is a team effort, and operations grind to a halt when workers abandon their grinders.

Cargill provides a “reflection room” in which employees can pray (or reflect quietly without praying), but the Muslim workers argue that the break policy does not provide sufficient accommodation for their prayers. “The workers were told: ‘If you want to pray, go home,’ ” complained the Council on American-Islamic Relations. A spokesman for Cargill called it “an unfortunate situation that may be based somewhere in a misunderstanding.”

Making allowances for religious practices is a good thing, but taken to excess it disrupts others, and in this case it disrupts business operations, which are fundamental to success in the marketplace and the job security of employees. The Somali Muslims at Cargill seem to be seeking privilege, not rights.

Compare this to the 2013 case of Aaron and Melissa Klein, two Christian confectioners in Oregon who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding on the grounds that to do so would infringe on their religious belief in traditional marriage as practiced for hundreds of years. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry, acting as monitors of theology, granted them no leeway for the expression of their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, and fined them $135,000, effectively closing down their store. The couple appealed the ruling for two years, but when the state cleaned out their family bank accounts just before Christmas, they paid the fine. Justice is meant to be blind, but not dumb.

Federalism allows each state its own legal nuance. Nonetheless, the U.S. Constitution acknowledges that all Americans have basic rights, among them religious liberty. The year 2016 opens with Muslims in Colorado pressing for religious privilege and Christian bakers in Oregon out of luck and money. Followers of the Prophet, many of them refugees from countries where Muslim belief is mandatory, and unaccustomed to American custom and tradition, are not shy in demanding deference to Islam. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and Christians are expected not to squeak, but turn the other cheek.

The law, as everyone knows, is a ass, and anyone looking for fairness in the affairs of men must learn patience. Until then, as George Orwell observed, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” America is supposed to be better than the barnyard.

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