Religious liberty: The Kentucky county clerk and the Muslim flight attendant

Two current cases may help clarify the issue of the degree to which religious conviction exempts a person from performing job duties.  The New York Times and the rest of the national media are giving front page treatment to Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky county clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples on religious grounds. For them, the story is one of religious bias from the hateful right standing in the way of human happiness.

The other story is receiving less national attention. Melissa Nann Burke of the Detroit News reports:

A Muslim-American group plans Tuesday to file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against ExpressJet Airlines for allegedly failing to accommodate a Metro Detroit-area Muslim flight attendant who objects to serving alcohol based on her religious beliefs.

The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the airline had directed employee Charee Stanley , to work out arrangements with the other flight attendant on duty to accommodate passengers’ requests for alcohol. The setup, it said, had worked without incident until Aug. 25, when ExpressJet placed Stanley on administrative leave for 12 months, after which her position may be terminated, according to CAIR.

“We have informed ExpressJet of its obligation under the law to reasonably accommodate Ms. Stanley’s religious accommodation request regarding service of alcohol,” Lena Masri, staff attorney for CAIR-Michigan said in a statement.

It should be noted that Express Jet operates feeder flights, smaller aircraft carrying the banners of American Eagle, United Express and Delta Connection, feeding into hubs. Some of the airplanes Express Jet flies have only one or two flight attendants. It should also be noted that alcohol sales are a major source of profitable revenue for a carrier that lacks much market clout, operating as it does as a contractor for major airlines.  Accommodating Ms. Stanley could very readily cut into the alcohol sales and ultimately the viability of the company.

I think that in both cases, the job duties come first. Religious convictions should not be used to change the nature of the job that the incumbent, after all, sought. We have the liberty to worship as we wish, as we have the liberty to seek employment consistent with our religion. I do not think we have the liberty to impose our religionon others, including our employers.

I am as appalled as anyone at the sloppy reasoning used by a Supreme Court majority to impose same sex marriage on the country. But the way our system is structured, the duties of a county clerk now include issuing marriage licenses. So, too, the duties a flight attendant include serving alcoholic drinks.

If we establish as a general principle that people can redefine their jobs depending on religious conviction, then we invite chaos. Carly Fiorina, who has run a global technology company employing all sorts of people, handled this question very well, I think:


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