12. Muslim Flight Attendant Fired for Refusing to Serve Alcohol


A couple of years after taking a job as a flight attendant a young woman converted to Islam. Last year she learned that in addition to not drinking alcohol, she was also not supposed to serve it to others.

Since that time her employer airline attempted to accommodate her inability to perform that part of her job and she has been able to get co-workers to serve the drinks requested by her passengers. Until another flight attendant lodged a formal complaint, saying that the Muslim employee was not doing her job.

Subsequent to which the airline fired her and she is suing to regain her position.

This is the slippery slope down which the Hobby Lobby, Wheaton College and Ave Maria University cases have launched us. From which it has become clear that evangelical protestants, the Catholic church and now Muslims refuse to understand the concept of separation of church and state. What is far more disturbing is that the Supreme Court of the United States appears to share that lack of understanding.

Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College, each acting in the capacity of an employer, claimed exemption from state and federal laws regarding the provision of medical insurance to employees, to the extent that those laws required the provision of medical coverage for contraception and abortion services.

The claim was that to require them to provide such coverage contravened their religious principles and infringed upon their religious freedom.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; … ”

It seems to me that the key factor here is that rights are not absolute.   My mom used to say, “The right of a man to swing his hands around ends where my nose begins.”

A person is free to exercise his or her religion up to the point where it infringes significantly upon rights of others: rights that are equally guaranteed under the Constitution and our laws. The “antiestablishment” clause means, among other things, that the rules of no religion may automatically become law governing or adversely affecting others not of that faith.

In Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College, the employers, by denying certain insurance coverage to their employees, sought to deny those employees, no matter what their religious beliefs might be, certain medical treatment that contravened the dogma of the employer’s religion. In the context of the Constitution, the free exercise of one’s religion does not include exercising it over someone else!

 Therefore, in those prior cases I would argue that the institutions were acting not in the capacity of religious organizations, but “in the capacity of”  (qua) employers within the state and federal definitions of that term, and as such they could be held to the requirements of employers with regard to such things as safety standards, taxation, and the provision of medical insurance benefits.

When cultural dictates or religious dogma conflict with the law … the law wins. If this were not the case, how could we hold fathers legally responsible for the “honor killing” of their daughters. Would any American suggest that we should not?

Sometimes it is helpful to look at or to pose a more extreme example in order to clarify an issue.   Suppose a woman were to work as a bartender. If she then became a Muslim and declined to serve alcohol, could she continue to collect her paycheck by claiming religious freedom?

In an analogous situation, the case of a medical disability, a company is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide “reasonable accommodation” to the person with the disability. Some things are reasonable and some are not. For instance, an airline is not required to hire or retain a totally blind pilot.

I believe that even with one Muslim flight attendant working a flight, given that the serving of food and beverages, including alcoholic ones, is a significant part of the job description, and given the workload shouldered by each employee, it might not be reasonable to offer accommodation. What if one day the staffing computer assigned four Muslim flight attendants to the same flight?

Though people of many religions may not see it that way, and Islam chief among them, adopting a religious belief or ideology is a matter of free and individual choice. In this country, according to our traditions, values and laws, no one is permitted to act out a religious belief that seeks to impose behaviors compliant to its rules upon others with different, or no, religious beliefs.