Muslim cab drivers lose round in court

Taxis waiting
Taxis at the airport wait to load luggage and other cargo for their passengers.
MPR Photo/Marisa Helms

(AP) - Muslim cabbies whose religious beliefs go against driving passengers who carry alcohol have lost another round in Minnesota courts.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday against the cabbies' latest attempt to block penalties from being imposed when they refuse to transport passengers because they're carrying alcoholic beverages.

An ordinance adopted by the Metropolitan Airports Commission last year revokes a cabbie's license for 30 days for refusing to pick up a passenger for any reason at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. A second refusal brings a two-year revocation.

A large share of the cabbies who serve the airport are Somali Muslims, and many of them believe that Islamic law prohibits them from giving rides to people carrying alcohol.

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Since the commission began keeping track in 2002, there have been over 5,200 recorded instances of cabbies refusing service to passengers at the airport, including a "significant percentage" of passengers carrying alcohol, the appeals court noted.

The issue had simmered for several years before the commission decided the penalties were needed to ensure that customers would get reliable taxi service at the airport, and that compromises proposed by the drivers were impractical.

The drivers, who say the airport rules infringe on their religious freedom, appealed a lower court's refusal to grant a temporary injunction blocking those penalties from taking effect.

The appeals court affirmed the lower court's decision. The legal standard for granting a temporary injunction requires that the parties seeking it must show they would suffer irreparable harm if it's not granted.

The appeals court agreed with the lower court that cab drivers who face suspension don't suffer irreparable harm because they can appeal their suspensions to the airports commission and keep working while their administrative appeals are pending.

The nine-page opinion by Judge Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks was designated as unpublished, which means it doesn't set a precedent for future cases.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)