Three days ago, I posted about a decision of Minneapolis transit officials to accommodate a bus driver's religious objection to driving a bus with an external ad for a local gay magazine. Now transit authorities have partially reversed themselves. From the AP:
Metro Transit said Friday that it inadvertently sent the wrong message about tolerance in trying to accommodate a bus driver's religious objections to driving buses that carried gay-themed ads.
Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons said the company made a temporary accommodation to the driver on Oct. 12, allowing her not [to] drive buses that carried an ad for Lavender, a local magazine aimed at the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.
The ad showed the face of a young man with the slogan, "Unleash Your Inner Gay." Fifty buses carried it periodically.
The ad contract ran only through Oct. 18, Gibbons said, and buses no longer are carrying the ads.
However, in reviewing the issue, Gibbons said the company likely would not make the same decision again.
"We are not persuaded that advertising, per se, infringes on religious practices and would be reluctant to make similar accommodations in the future," Gibbons said. . . .
"We deeply regret any impressions of intolerance," Gibbons said in a written statement. "Metro Transit employs and serves a diverse population, and we do our best to be respectful of all views." . . .
There are a couple of interesting things about this development.
First, transit authorities have apparently decided that driving a bus with an ad of this sort probably doesn't really violate any religious commands to the contrary. As I suggested in my last post on this issue, it's probably true that very few religions — even ones that strongly object to homosexual acts — would really command an adherent not to drive a bus under these circumstances.
Announcing a general policy of reassigning drivers would invite a problem: drivers who are simply uncomfortable with certain ads will (either mistakenly or dishonestly) label their objections "religious" and demand reassignment. This problem is especially great when it comes to anything gay-related because many people still have a gut-level "ick" reaction to homosexuality. Moreover, if challenged, they vaguely attribute this reaction to religious teachings.
I'd rather not have transit authorities closely examining religious doctrines. But by saying they would "be reluctant" to grant the accommodation in the future, transit authorities leave open the door to a possible accommodation in isolated cases while signaling their skepticism about such claims in a way that may (1) dissuade impostors and (2) cause sincere religious objectors to examine more closely their own religious scruples before requesting an accommodation.
Second, I'm more skeptical of transit officials' "diversity" and "tolerance" rationales for the decision. As is common, they appear to use this sort of language primarily to mean respect for persons based on things like race, sex, and sexual orientation. That's a fine principle. If transit authorities had accommodated a driver's religious objections to homosexuality by removing the gay-themed ads or permitting a driver to refuse entry to homosexual riders, that would be a very different case.
But why doesn't "respect for all views" include those of religious dissenters from majoritarian values? Here, by hypothesis, we can accommodate a single religious objector at no cost to anyone — not to bus riders, not to advertisers, not to other employees, and not to the transit authority. The only thing that's lost to us is the satisfaction of knowing that this religious dissenter from our values has been made to heel. I'm not sure this satisfaction is all that different in form from the old rationale for sodomy laws, under which the state enforced the nosy preferences of the moral majority even though it could show no appreciable harm to anyone from the activity prohibited. It shows no intolerance of gay people to accommodate sincere religious objectors where the accommodation will cause no harm; on the contrary, it shows tolerance for religious diversity.
Note that the controversy is not necessarily over. The ads run periodically and will probably run again sometime next year.
Related Posts (on one page):
- More on that Minneapolis bus driver:
- Another religious accommodation controversy in Minneapolis: