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New policy starts debate

The Metropolitan Airport Commission held an intense debate about religion and alcohol Tuesday in Bloomington.

The MAC listened to testimonies that would impose harsher penalties for taxi drivers who refused to give service due to religious or other reasons. Some staff of the MAC insist that harsher practices are necessary to provide reliable service at the airport.

Since January of 2002, Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport Director Steve Wareham reported that there were a total of 5, 222 documented refusals of customers. Around 100 people are denied service at the airport every month, the Star Tribune reported. The MAC is considering extensive punishments for such drivers.

The debate mainly involved airport taxicab drivers of Somali descent and their refusal to drive people who have been drinking or have alcohol. The MAC received a “fatwa? (or a religious edict) last year from the Minnesota Chapter of the Muslim American Society, stating the religion of Islam prohibits taxi drivers from carrying passengers with alcohol. The edict states alcohol is prohibited because “it involves cooperating in sin according to Islam.?

About three-fourths of the 900 total cab drivers are Somali, many of them being Muslim.

Responding to the possible penalties, one driver said, “It’s against the law to discriminate against someone because of his belief. I urge you guys to look at this issue very seriously, because you are deciding the fate of 600 drivers and their families, their livelihood.?

Under the current system, drivers may refuse service to people who are drunk or appear dangerous. However, airport officials would like to see drivers who refuse service to have stricter penalties should they refuse passengers for any other reason.

The current penalty for a driver is being sent to the back of the taxi line. The Pioneer Press reported that translates to a three or four hour wait for the next customer.

Under the new policy, a first offense would result in a driver being suspended for 30 days. For a second refusal, a driver’s airport license would be revoked for two years, the Pioneer Press reported.

Also present during the debate was a group of blind Minnesotans, speaking about being denied rides from some taxis. Some Somali drivers consider the saliva of dogs unclean and therefore refuse to have dogs in the cabs, which sparked resentment from others.

A local Twins Cities resident, who spoke before the three-member panel of airport commissioners said, “the cabdrivers have a right to their religious view, but in this country, are they Americans or are they Muslims? Alcohol is a part of American society, and if they don’t like that, then they can find another job.?

The new policy will be voted on in April, and if passed, will take effect starting May 11.