Thursday, October 19, 2006

Minneapolis Bus Driver refuses to drive gay-theme bus.

Culture: On the heels of the Muslim cab drivers who refused to carry customers with alcohol we get a bus driver refusing to drive a bus with a gay ad on the back. Now we are not told the religion, but considering the ACLU, union and a state senator come out strongly against the driver, I am guessing she is not Muslim. If she was none of the three would open a yap. Did anyone see the ACLU make a fuss during the cab driver controversy?

The ad for the gay-lesbian-bisexual and transgender oriented monthly magazine was more than controversial for one Metro Transit bus driver. "She came forward and said that the ad offended her religious beliefs," explained transit company spokesman Bob Gibbons. Gibbons said they decided to accommodate the driver. She was reassigned to buses that did not have the Lavender ad. Gibbons said such accommodation is on a "case by case" basis. "And you say to yourself, can you make a reasonable accommodation? If the answer to that is yes, the second question is does it cause you a business hardship? If the answer to that is yes, it does cause a business hardship, no accommodation would be made," said Gibbons. Charles Sameulson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota sees the issue differently. "There is a sense in this society, that it's okay to refuse to be offended." As for Metro Transit's "accommodation"? "I think you just say I'm sorry, you have to drive the bus that's assigned to you." Samuelson argues that public workers like bus drivers, taxi cab drivers, pharmacists and doctors have certain obligations that go with the job. "People who have occupational licenses, granted to them by the state, cannot discriminate." Lavender owner Rocheford said freedom of religion is an important factor in American life, but it has some limits. "It does not allow people who work for organizations that get 54 - 55 percent of their funds from the public to decide whether they want to perform their job." Interestingly, the driver's bargaining unit, local 1005 of the Amalgamated Transit Workers, did not side with their member. Union officials said making such accommodations based on religious objections could cause havoc with the bus system. What, one official wondered, would happen if a number of drivers objected to liquor ads or other advertising on religious grounds? State Senator Scott Dibble was pleased to hear the union's take on the issue and he called on the Metropolitan Council and Transit officials to reverse their decision, "This is an outrageous decision. As a community, we should promote tolerance." Dibble is a member of the Senate's Transportation Committee and has been a strong advocate for transit initiatives, but he said in a statement, "It is difficult for me to go to my constituents and ask their support for transit initiatives this fall.. When Metro Transit officials take such divisive actions."

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