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No Wine Allowed in This Taxicab

It's all well and good to talk about religious pluralism. Freedom of speech. Multicultural society. As cocktail talk, or late night philosophical and sociological arguments, these are principles that many, including myself, believe form the foundation of a modern, tolerant, and democratic society.

But in the real world, it's not always so easy to figure out where to draw the lines.

Take this little wine-related ethical dilemma, for example. In Minneapolis, Minnesota there are Muslim cab drivers from Somalia who, due to their religious beliefs, will not admit passengers to their cabs who are carrying any alcohol whatsoever. Their interpretation of their faith is that they are not allowed to carry any alcohol, and that includes in the baggage of one of their fares.

No problem, right? Just an occasional cab driver who can't take a passenger.

Or maybe not.

Of the 900 cabdrivers that serve the Minneapolis airport, through some fascinating phenomenon of immigration and job choice, fully 75% are Somali Muslims, which turns this from an occasional annoyance to a royal problem prompting the question what on earth is the right ethical approach to this situation? There must be a line somewhere that gets crossed and we go from respecting religious differences to civic chaos. At the same time, I like to think of myself as very much not one of those Americans who goes through life feeling entitled to do whatever I want whenever I want, no matter what the impact is on other people.

I'm not saying that a line has been crossed in the particular situation under discussion, as honestly I'm not sure how I would solve the problem. The airport is looking at a solution requiring the cabbies to have different colored lights on the tops of their cabs to indicate whether they will or won't carry a fare with alcohol, and those without lights who end up refusing fares go back to the end of the taxi line to wait for the chance at another, non-booze-toting passenger. Certainly a solution, but not an ideal one, especially when you've got thirty, duty-free-whisky-toting passengers in a line of fifty people, and a taxi line of fifty cabs of which only 12 will work.

But it is an interesting conundrum to me. What do you think the right thing to do is? Certainly you can't tell 700 cab drivers they are no longer welcome to work at the airport just because of their religion, but at the same time, there's no way an airport can justify losing a significant percentage of its efficiency in getting people where they want to go because of some coincidence of local immigration and job selection.

What do you think? Any ethical philosophers out there? Read the full story.

Comments (32)

Curmudgeon wrote:
10.05.06 at 5:51 PM

I'd wonder what the cab companies think of employees who will not fulfill the terms of their employment, i.e. PICKING UP FARES FOR MONEY.

Scott wrote:
10.05.06 at 6:42 PM


If I lived in MN, I would hope that the citizens there could bring pressure on the cab companies to fire anyone so arrogant as to think their religion gets to have say over what is in my luggage. If they don't want to drink, so be it. If they don't want my heathen body in their holy car, they can get the hell out of my country. End of story.

There is an interesting comparison here to those pharmacists who don't want to dispense birth control. It is not the job of a pharmacist to make other people's medical choices more complicated and inconvenient. If they think their God will punish them for not having imposed their power on non-believers, then they shouldn't be allowed into an ethical community of pharmacists. Having someone ride in your cab, or filling a prescription, is not a personal endorsement and association.

These people believe in a wicked and vengeful god, and if they weren't so fascistic about everything, I'd feel sorry for them.

OWC (Obligatory Wine Content): I endorse Weimax Wine and Spirits in Burlingame, CA, at which I participated in my first blind tasting on Wednesday. Gerald is a true original wine junkie and I look forward to learning more in his store... cool place.

10.05.06 at 7:42 PM

Good point Cur, but I'm certain that in this legal climate the cab companies would be in deep doo doo for firing a cabbie that refused to pick up a wino fare.

If the market were brought to bear, all things being otherwise equal, the cabbies refusing passengers would be weeded out. But, there is no real market for cabs in most cities, particularly at the airport.

Wonder if a non-drinking fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptist would get the same respect for his religious beliefs.

Alder wrote:
10.05.06 at 8:18 PM

Strong words, Scott. Luckily for you they don't have any issue with your heathen body (you can have alcohol in your blood, apparently -- no issues for them giving drunks a ride home) but they do want to draw the line at that flask in your pocket. Deportation may be a little extreme, methinks....

Alfonso wrote:
10.05.06 at 9:32 PM

is this just during Ramadan? or all year? What about the obligatory Thanksgiving turkey and wine matching trip to Minneapolis? How are we gonna make the Pilgrimage to Gramma's? It's downright "Unamercan" !

Nicholas wrote:
10.06.06 at 5:57 AM

How is this any different from pharmacists who refuse to provide emergency contraceptives out of conscience? If you are ethically unwilling to do your job, then you should find another job. I'm pretty sure if I showed up at work and refused to sign documents because the Bible told me that I can never swear by anything, I'm pretty sure I'd be fired in an instant. And it would be unreasonable to think that my company should have to find some workaround solution whereby I never have to sign anything.

I'm not saying that they're bad people or anything like that. It just doesn't make sense to me that someone would have a job, then refuse to do it, then hope to keep their job.

Ryan Scott wrote:
10.06.06 at 6:36 AM

Would the southern Baptist be allowed to refuse to drive a guy with porno mags in his suitcase?

Joe wrote:
10.06.06 at 7:53 AM

It is a tough situation. As I understand it, cabbies are allowed to refuse a fare, just like a store can refuse someone's busines.

As for pharmacists that refuse to sell contraception, I'd argue that there's a public health impact which may justify requiring them to provide for their customers. But that's a different argument.

Sounds like the only solution is to find a way to encourage more cabbies who do not have this requirement.
I have a tough time getting angry about someone's religious conviction preventing them from taking my fare. Unfortunate, but it's their right.

"If they don't want to drink, so be it. If they don't want my heathen body in their holy car, they can get the hell out of my country. End of story."

That's downright psychotic. Guess what guy? It's their country too. Understand that, or get out of OUR country.

casey wrote:
10.06.06 at 8:09 AM

Re: the public health response to pharmacists who refuse to sell contraception; i am drinking/providing wine to others in order to reduce their chance of developing heart disease (a much bigger public health problem than the occasional pregnancy); we certainly dont drink it because of the taste, association with food or conviviality with friends, do we? So the CDC should MAKE those cabbies let us prosyletize.

Gene wrote:
10.06.06 at 8:36 AM

Hi, Alder. Wow! This is a question of discrimination and separation of church and state. What if next the Minneapolis drivers are offended by the sight of women's hair? Burkas? IMO, the solution proposed by the Minneapolis airport authority is misguided. A taxi driver, especially at an airport is functioning in a public milieu. He is not entitled to discriminate among passengers. In fact, no one is entitled to discriminate. The previous comments about pharmacists and health care workers are right on. This is the antithesis of freedom and multi-culturalism. Muslims are definitely entitled to their beliefs, but they are not entitled to impose their beliefs and values on others. See my recent post re: wine and 9/11.

On the same subject, there is quite a row going on in the London police deparment over a Muslim officer who refused his duty to guard the Israeli Embassy. Police are supposed to do their job, just like pharmacists and taxi drivers.

If we believe in freedom and multi-culturalism, then the one sixth of the world's population that is Muslim is entitled to miss out on the delights of wine, but they are not entitled to impose this on the other five sixths of us.

Nigerian Nobel Prize-winner, Wole Soyinka, writes poignantly in his Forard to The Last Summer of Reason by Algerian Tahar Djaout, " For let no one be in any doubt, the life and death discourse of the twenty-first century is unambiguously the discourse of fanaticism and intolerance." Tahir's book, BTW, is a powerful writing about the very issue of freedom, inquiry, beauty and art versus fanaticsm and intolerance. It is about the dictatorship of "isms", whether it be Nazism, Communism, Capitalism, or Islamism.

Multi-culturalism means that the taxi drivers should respect our right to enjoy wine, not that they get to impose their values on us. The Minneapolis taxi drivers may believe that they are just following their beliefs, but, in fact, they are discriminating against us. What if they decided to refuse service to woemn, the disabled, or African Americans. " First they came for the Jews, then the Catholics, then us."

Joe wrote:
10.06.06 at 9:12 AM

Gene- I don't get it.
How on earth are they imposing their beliefs on us?
The cabbies are running businesses. They can either take our business or not. We can either patronize theirs or not. Nobody's forcing anybody's hand here.
I am a wine retailer. Would a nondrinking Muslim accuse me of imposing my beliefs on him if he walks by my shop window? I seriously doubt it.

"in fact, they are discriminating against us. What if they decided to refuse service to woemn, the disabled, or African Americans."

Nobody can help being a woman, disabled, or African-American. If you can't help having alcohol with you you should probably seek treatment!

Several of these responses seem, to me at least, to be laced with thinly veiled racism.
There are entire COUNTIES in the United States where you're not allowed to purchase alcohol. And some cabbies who feel that they themselves are sinning for allowing alcohol into their cab (read: place of business) is drawing this much ire?

Elizabeth wrote:
10.06.06 at 9:33 AM

Why would anyone be in Minneapolis in the first place, much less taking a taxi somewhere? It is the coldest/hottest place on earth and the people are bland. Take the airport out and there wouldn't be this problem. I couldn't resist :)

Anonymous wrote:
10.06.06 at 10:30 AM

Hello again,

1 -- deportation? No, nothing coercive like that. But I don't welcome intolerant people into the USA, I wish they wouldn't come here and expect the "right" to discriminate against me because of my lack of religious belief.

I feel the same way about those very conservative pharmacists with a mission -- don't be a pharmacist if you can't respect that other people have a right to access medicine that might offend you. Those people who think the constitution enables them to create a zone where they can exclude non-believers have little knowlege of history, the law, or common decency. Respect is a two way street, and I choose inflammatory language to get to make this point... if you ask me to be more respectful in my tone, then you should be equally willing to ask the cabbies to respect my autonomy over my luggage, not defend their intolerance, which I find offensive. What I have in my possession is none of their business.

2 -- at the risk of turning a wine blog into a political maelstorm, consider the precedent being set. If a cabby can refuse a fare because they disapprove of the possession of alcohol, then they can refuse the fare of anyone else they deem impure, e.g. women improperly dressed or (relevant to my heathen body) a male couple.

Freedom of religion does not extend to the freedom to practice your religion in a way that affects other people's rights. It might seem reasonable to let some cabbies slightly inconvenience a small number of fares, but it isn't. It is discrimination in public accomodations, a matter which I thought our legal system handled deftly in the Heart of Atlanta Motel case. For if cabbies can refuse fares out of personal conviction, then landlords and restuarants and hotels can surely refuse tenants and customers as well for just about any reason. You can justify bigotry from the bible or Koran if you try hard enough -- it happens a lot. Remember when interracial marraige was against people's religion? There are people who argue that their kids should be allowed to call other kids "fags" and otherwise express their hatred because a refusal to allow them to express themselves this way violates the free exercise clause of the constitution. Sounds like a nice argument, sort of, until you consider the altogether more important principle that the gay or presumed to be gay kids have a right to get an education free from fear and intimidation.

The cabby issue and all the other examples include some kind of conflict of rights so there is something worth discussing, even though I think there should be a clear judgement about whose rights are more important.

However, freedom of political speech on an adult blog, intentionally provocative as it might be, impacts no one else's rights so I find the idea that I be the one to leave the country because I don't understand people's rights to be head-splittingly ironic.

OWC -- does anyone know if the wineries had enough migrant labor to get their crop picked before the recent rains in CA? Was the crop even ripe yet?


duane wrote:
10.06.06 at 2:23 PM

I have experienced this firsthand when flying back to my home in Minnesota.

The cabbie was loading our luggage when he noticed the 6 pack of wine. He politely apologized that he couldn't take the fare since it was against his religion to transport alcohol.

I was taken aback, but he was very gentle about it and not at all judgemental. He just couldn't do it.

He helped load our bags in the cab next to him and that was that.

I am certain I would feel differently if I had to wait 10 minutes for another cab, but this wasn't the case the day it happened to me.

I certainly wish the cabbie would have been more tolerant of my beliefs, but I guess I am big enough to be tolerant of his.

Joe wrote:
10.06.06 at 2:24 PM


You make some valid points, but I still take issue with that wording- "get out of my country." In fact, given everything else you write in that response, I don't even think you believe it yourself. Given the sensitivity of some of your comments here, you have to understand that those Somali cabbies are as welcome here as you are. I took umbrage at your suggestion that they "get the hell out" of "your" country.

It's an extremely complicated question. I'd be just as annoyed as you about the cabbies' objection, but it is still their right. I'd direct my anger at the city for not taking measures to ensure that there's enough competition from cab drivers who won't refuse someone with a bottle of wine.
I, personally, make a distinction between public and private here. If a business wishes to discriminate, it's their choice to turn down the business (and hopefully such a business would fail miserably.) If a church refuses to marry a gay couple, well, that's their conviction and their right. The fact that virtually every STATE refuses to do so is absolutely inexcusable in my eyes.

Lindsay wrote:
10.06.06 at 2:39 PM

Can't resist jumping into this discussion.

What I want to know is how do the cabbies know you are carrying alcohol? I assume they ask. Now the problem is whether they can refuse a fare who refuses to answer (or tell the truth) about something that is none of the cabbies business. My response to the question would likely be "not as far as you know!", whether or not I was carrying alcohol. I would refuse to directly answer the question.

Religious freedom does not give one the right to interrogate people as to their lawful activities in public. What this is is essentially religious discrimination, where a businessperson (a cabbie in this example) refuses to serve me because my religious beliefs do not agree with his. You try refusing to serve customers in a restaurant because they're Jewish and see what sort of uproar you get. I consider this equally offensive.

Tim wrote:
10.06.06 at 2:52 PM

Since I live in the Twin Cities, this is pretty embarrassing. You do have another option transporting your vino besides renting a car. Our new light rail line connects the airport with downtown Minneapolis (and the Mall of America going the other way). I'll have to pay more attention to this story and see how it develops... oh, and if you have any problems carrying wine here, Alder, I'd be happy to give you a ride ;-)

Jack wrote:
10.06.06 at 8:36 PM

One thing (I think) no one has mentioned is that taxi cabs are Licensed. It's a big deal. Some municipalities (like NYC) make it Very Clear that a cab driver is not allowed to refuse a fare because of destination, etc., ...doing so can lose your medallion.

It would seem to me (but what do I know) that transporting someone who's carrying alcohol does not put the driver in danger; so it's a legitimate fare. No one is forcing people to become cab drivers. It therefore seems that Minneapolis cab drivers who turn down a fare because someone has a bottle of wine should be subject to having their cab license suspended.

(But then again, lying to the country about Weapons of Mass Destruction didn't really exist didn't seem to bother half the country, so why would this?)

10.07.06 at 9:33 AM

I don't know the situation in MN. But in New York City, there is no open market for yellow cabs. There is a fixed number of licenses. Part of being a taxi driver in NYC is that you cannot refuse legal fares. Carrying alcohol is part of being a taxi driver; if you don't want to do it, no one is forcing you to be a taxi driver.

I'm curious if taxi licenses are limited in MN. If they are, then a market-driven solution will not necessarily be possible. If taxis are not limited, then someone might be able to make a good deal of money by being willing to transport alcohol.

On a related topic, in New York City several small shops have stopped selling beer for religious reasons. While this is not my personal preference, it is certainly within the shopkeepers' rights to not sell alcohol.

Fiorenzo wrote:
10.07.06 at 10:22 AM

Well, just like Lindsay, I can't resist jumping into the discussion.
I red the comments and I didn't notice a possible italian-way solution: to lie. Like this:
Somali taxi driver: "hey, you carry wine in your bags?"
Customer: "uh, no.. hmm, no way, no-no".
Somali taxi driver: "that's ok, hop in".
(Hoping somali taxi drivers do not frisk customers).

wineguy wrote:
10.07.06 at 1:45 PM

When I drove cabs in Virginia it was in fact illegal for the cab driver to handle alcohol in any way -- in other words the passenger had to carry the bottle. Would not a rule like this work in this situation?

mondodiVino wrote:
10.08.06 at 4:20 AM

I think that here in Italy, they will have really to look for another work...

Scott wrote:
10.08.06 at 8:36 AM

According to the Federal regulations for holders of commercial drivers license and working in the vehicle for hire industry (i.e. bus drivers, chauffers, cab drivers...), they are not allowed to discriminate against anyone based on race, religion, etc... Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen...

Matthew wrote:
10.08.06 at 11:47 AM

Those cab drivers are intolerant fascists. If they were to become the majority in here, no one would drink wine ever again. Fascism must always be stopped before it spreads any further.

Freedom and wine!

Whit Stevens wrote:
10.08.06 at 8:52 PM

The law should protect individual's freedom to do as they choose. The law should not be used to coerce others to live the lifestyle of your preference.

The cab driver that won't give you a ride (because of your wine) is not hurting you; he is simply choosing not to help you. But if you compel him to give you a ride, than clearly you are hurting him.

Coercion causes great hardship on people and should be reserved for very important matters. Carrying wine in the cab of your choice is not an important matter.

GollyG wrote:
10.09.06 at 12:40 PM

What would happen if the light railway driver refused to carry alcohol? Would s/he refuse to drive the train until all alcohol was removed? How about an ordinary train, a Greyhound bus, or a cross country flight?

I guess if the taxi drivers are employees then the company they work for would object to discriminating against customers, so the job would not be do-able - carrying alcohol, pork, cheese or Twinkies must be part of a cabbies job description.

If they're self employed then it's a choice about how they run their business, it may be economic madness, but it's a choice. It's good to live in a country with choices.

Richard Leland wrote:
10.09.06 at 4:21 PM

This reminds me of a case in Oakland several years ago (I probably have the facts wrong, but the principal is right) where an observant Jew sued his employer, one of the local transit agencies (BART? AC Transit?) because they made him work on Saturdays. The agency was able to demnonstrate that the employee knew about the Saturday work hours when he interviewed for the job. Could it be any simpler? If your religion (or personal beliefs) prevent you from carrying out the responsibilities of the job .... then don't take the job!


Jess wrote:
10.10.06 at 11:48 AM

Well, to Elizabeth who finds us Minnesotans as bland as the lefse, you obviously aren't too familiar with our state to be making such standard stereotypical comments about the weather and the like. Not that hot and cold don't exist here. (On the flip side, I leave town in the coldest of winter and the hottest of summer to a more temperate climate, but haven't found the courage to completely leave yet, hard when you grew up here) You are not my point of this comment, however, but I couldn't resist.

While it is the cabbie's right to be here in this country and to have their freedom of religion, I have a hard time with a point that was made in a Minneapolis paper quoting one of the cabbies as saying they don't mind giving people rides as long as they aren't aware of the alcohol stowed away in their luggage. So I guess they are only religiously responsible for what they are aware of and not enough to quiz us. All I know is that you can't do anything in this state, hell, they barely let you out of your house without wearing a helmet these days and being overly regulated is just down right annoying. So, to me, this is just another really annoying accomodation being made especially since it feels as if alcohol toting individuals are being discriminated against. My resolve is just to make a personal stand and ask for the cabs who allow alcohol every time I travel whether I am lugging alcohol or not.

Gene wrote:
10.10.06 at 12:05 PM

When I used discrimination against the disabled as an example, I never dreamed that it could actually happen. Well, it did! In London - check out: "Unclean Guide Dog Banned By Muslim Cab Driver."


uhasadin wrote:
06.12.07 at 1:35 PM

uhasadin wrote:
06.12.07 at 1:35 PM

uhasadin wrote:
06.12.07 at 1:35 PM

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