(AP) - Officials at Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport are proposing stiffer penalties - including suspension of an airport taxi license - to Muslim cab drivers who refuse service on religious grounds to passengers toting alcohol or with service dogs.
Officials on Wednesday asked the Metropolitan Airport Commission for permission to hold public hearings on a proposal that would suspend the airport licenses of cab drivers who refuse service for reasons other than safety concerns. The penalties would also apply to drivers who refuse a fare because a trip is too short.
Drivers would have their airport licenses suspended 30 days for the first offense and revoked for two years after the second offense, according to the proposal.
"Our expectation is that if you're going to be driving a taxi at the airport, you need to provide service to anybody who wants it," commission spokesman Patrick Hogan said.
The commission is expected to vote Jan. 16 on the request for public hearings.
Our expectation is that if you're going to be driving a taxi at the airport, you need to provide service to anybody who wants it.MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan
Airports Commissioner Bert McKasy said the issue raised by Muslim cab drivers who say that carrying alcohol or dogs, including those that help people with disabilities, violates religious beliefs is "unfortunate."
"I think it's pretty much the consensus of the commissioners and the staff that we have to provide good service to the public, and that's pretty much the bottom line," McKasy said.
Currently, a driver who refuses to transport someone carrying wine would be told to go to the back of the taxicab line. A driver who refuses to transport a passenger with a service dog - in violation of the federal American with Disabilities Act - already faces a 30 day suspension of the airport license, Hogan said. The new proposal would make all penalties the same - and tougher.
Each month, about 100 people are denied cab service at the airport. Airport officials say that in recent months, the problem of service refusals for religious reasons has grown. About three-quarters of the 900 taxi drivers at the airport are Somali, many of them Muslim.
Hogan said the goal is to have a new policy in place by May 11, when airport taxi licenses come up for annual renewal.
"We want the drivers to know about the policy in advance, so that if they don't think they can work under these conditions, they have the option of not renewing their license," Hogan said.
Last year, the airports commission received a fatwa, or religious edict, from the Minnesota chapter of the Muslim American Society. The fatwa said "Islamic jurisprudence" prohibits taxi drivers from carrying passengers with alcohol, "because it involves cooperating in sin according to Islam."
Eva Buzek, a flight attendant and Minneapolis resident, said she was recently refused service by five taxi drivers when she was carrying wine as she returned from a trip to France.
"In my book, when you choose to come to a different country, you make some choices," said Buzek, a native of Poland. "I never expected everything to be the same way as in my homeland, and I adjusted. I never dreamed of imposing my beliefs on somebody else."
But Hassan Mohamud, imam at Al-Taqwa Mosque of St. Paul and director of the Islamic Law Institute at the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, one of the largest Islamic organizations in the state, said asking Muslims to transport alcohol "is a violation of their faith. Muslims do not consume, carry, sell or buy alcohol, and Islam also considers the saliva of dogs to be unclean, he said.
Mohamud said he would ask airport officials to reconsider.
But many Somali taxi drivers don't have a problem transporting passengers with alcohol and are worried about a backlash, said Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center. Jamal said he supports the tougher penalties.
"We tell the taxi drivers, if you don't want to do this, change your job," he said. "You are living in a country where alcohol is not viewed the way it is in your country."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)