I’ve never tried to hide the fact that I am a Mormon, here or anywhere else. But I do my best not to be pushy with that information. Nor do I demand that other people espouse my particular religious beliefs, although I invite those who are interested to investigate and join my church. Notice, though, that I said “invite” and not “force.” My religion doesn’t allow me to force others to convert:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may. (Article of Faith 11)

Abstinence from alcohol is a fairly well-known tenet of my faith, but the fact that I and other Mormons are forbidden from drinking doesn’t mean that non-Mormons are likewise forbidden. Alcohol abstinence is required for practicing Mormons, but not for non-Mormons — just as eating kosher is required for observant Jews, but not for non-Jews. From my quick searches, it appears that Muslims, too, are required to abstain from certain substances:

“He has forbidden you only carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, and that over which name of other than God is invoked; yet whoso is constrained, not revolting nor exceeding limits, no sin is upon him; God is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah 2:173) [emphasis mine - ed]

If I understand this passage correctly, Muslims are forbidden to eat pork, but that constraint is directed specifically at believers, i.e. Muslims. The Qu’ran doesn’t seem to have any injunctions against non-believers who choose to eat pork. And interestingly enough, the commandment to abstain from pork doesn’t appear to be absolute. Sura 5:3 reiterates the forbidden status of pork (among other items), but ends with the following: “However, if any is constrained by hunger, without willfully inclining to sin, then God is Forgiving, Merciful.” So in times of hunger, Allah even allows Muslims to eat pork — as long as they don’t do it along the lines of, “Boy, I sure am hungry. Make mine a bacon cheeseburger with extra bacon.”

While I do not drink alcohol, there is no prohibition against my selling alcohol to others. For instance, I could be a waiter in a restaurant and pour wine for patrons without compromising my faith. I could even be a liquor store attendant or a bartender, although I personally wouldn’t choose these last two careers because I consider them incompatible with my espoused beliefs. How could I recommend a cocktail if I don’t drink? Likewise, in my admittedly quick search of the Qu’ran for information regarding “swine,” I did not come across a verse that forbids contact with pigs or pork products. But it appears that some Muslims in Minnesota have a problem with touching pork and transporting alcohol, to the point that it is affecting their ability to do their jobs.

To summarize the two links above, Muslim taxi drivers at the Minnesota airport have refused to transport people carrying alcohol or using guide dogs (dogs, like pigs, are considered unclean by Muslims), and in some Minnesota supermarkets, Muslim checkers refuse to swipe pork products like bacon. Either the customer must swipe the offending item past the bar-code readers, or another checker is called over to do the job. I have to wonder why Muslims have chosen these jobs if they see a fundamental conflict between carrying out their duties and obeying the tenets of their faith. As pointed out above, you’re not going to find too many Mormon bartenders because most Mormons would see philosophical conflicts between their beliefs and the job requirements. A cab driver’s job is to drive passengers from place to place, be safe and courteous, and collect a fare. If he believes his religion forbids him from picking up certain people even if they can pay the fare, why is he even in that business? Likewise, a cashier’s job is to ring up customers’ purchases. If she cannot or will not handle certain purchases because of religious constraints, why did she choose to take that job? If I’m hired to dig ditches, but I can’t perform the job requirements, why am I in that business? To quote Frank Waturi from Joe Versus the Volcano, “I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?” That’s pretty much the question every employer has to ask about a possible new hire. And if the answer is, “He can’t do the whole job because his religion forbids him from doing it,” why is that person even trying for the job?

If these Minnesota Muslim cabbies and checkers were refusing to serve because of some universal Muslim tenet of faith, I could better understand their commitment. However, based on the articles being written, these incidents appear to be happening only in Minnesota. Muslim cabbies and cashiers who live elsewhere seem to have no problem with transporting customers carrying alcohol or swiping pork-based items at the checkout stand. So what exactly is going on? I suspect it has something to do with the social practices of Muslim groups in Minnesota. Remember the “flying imams” who were kicked off their flight because of their peculiar behavior? That was in the Minnesota airport. The imams in question had just attended a gathering in Minneapolis, and I suspect their unusual actions in the airport were triggered by something that took place in that meeting.

This makes three separate incidents in the past few months where Muslims in Minnesota have kicked up a public fuss due to their religious beliefs. I can no longer believe they are merely coincidental. But the next obvious question is: why are they behaving this way? What is the purpose of demonstrating zero-tolerance, in-your-face Islam to non-Muslims? I’m not sure I have a definitive answer, but I do wonder whether we are seeing the first attempt to prepare the United States to accept Shari’a law. If so, the Muslims are taking actions that seem more coercive than persuasive.

UPDATE (4/17/2007 9:34:10 AM): Action is being taken in Minnesota to make sure taxi drivers actually do their job. Based on this report, the Metropolitan Airports Commission has voted for newer and stronger penalties for taxi drivers who refuse to take a fare. They are looking at a 30 day suspension for the first violation and two years for the second violation. Now comes the expected whine of violated rights.

“We see this as a penalty against a group of Americans only for practicing their faith,” said Hassan Mohamud, an imam and an adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law.

But Professor, if doing the job right is a violation of their faith, then why are they even taking the job?

Did you know that Prohibition is 70 years old? Actually, the repeal of Prohibition is 70 years old today. On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, thus ending the federal government’s policy of alcohol prohibition as established by the 18th Amendment.

H. L. Mencken was a fierce critic of Prohibition, and The American Mercury published the following quote of his in 1925:

Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.

Has history shown that Mencken was accurate in this statement? History responds with a resounding “YES!” People spent much of their time and efforts during Prohibition to skirt around the law or to break it outright. Organized crime took over the production and distribution of liquor in the United States, because Prohibition had raised the cost of booze so high that it was well worth the time and effort for criminals to peddle drinks. But it wasn’t just organized crime that skirted the law; the money that could be reaped from rum-running caused normally law-abiding people to join in. Outlawing booze caused a black market for alcohol to sprout up, and led to all the shadowy people who both bought and sold there. Does anyone in the 21st Century now believe that Prohibition succeeded in creating a “dry” nation? I think we would be hard-pressed today to find more than a few people who still see it as a success.

I am a teetotaler — I completely abstain from drinking liquor for religious reasons. But although I do not drink, I understand that the choice to drink is one of the privileges of freedom. People should be allowed to drink, if they choose. But this privilege also comes with the responsibility to know your drinking limit and not to cross it. Driving while intoxicated, getting smashed and beating the wife, standing before Senators and calling judicial nominees “Neanderthals,” or any other alcohol-impaired action that affects others for the worse is not responsible drinking.

Tobacco smoking is this century’s particular Prohibition. The federal government is sending decidedly mixed signals when it subsidizes tobacco farmers with one hand, and increasingly restricts the use of tobacco in public and increases taxes on tobacco products with the other. Several states have now forbidden smoking in public places, and the outright ban or prohibition of smoking cannot be too far off. In the last decade, Canada hiked up the tax on cigarettes. This produced what any artificially-increased price produces: a black market. The Canadian cigarette black market was so monumentally successful that Canada repealed the tax a few years later. And this idea of high taxes is not limited to just the U.S. and Canada. England has a higher cigarette tax than Europe, so naturally, England has a large black market for cigarettes. This attempt to prohibit smoking through higher taxes has created the same situation everywhere it has been tried, just as occurred during the American alcohol prohibition of the 1920s and ’30s.

I am also a tobacco teetotaler — I completely abstain from using tobacco in any form. But although I do not smoke, I understand that the choice to smoke is one of the privileges of freedom. People should be allowed to smoke, if they choose. But this privilege also comes with the responsibility to recognize how smoking affects you and those around you. Smoking in a home with children, tossing your used butts out the window while driving, puffing smoke in the face of non-smokers, or any other cigarette-related action that affects others for the worse is not responsible smoking.

Yet smoking is not the best example of our nation’s current Prohibition. I am speaking of the prohibition against drugs. For many decades now, our nation has passed stronger and harsher laws against the use and sale of certain recreational drugs. This has increased the cost of drugs and created a thriving black market, as prohibition always does. Organized crime is heavily involved with the production, transportation, and distribution of drugs in our nation, and the high profit potential entices many normally law-abiding people to dabble in drug sales to make a quick buck. Increased jail time for drug users and pushers has not curbed the use of drugs, any more than the jailing of bartenders and moonshiners did last century, but we now have a situation where people who are convicted for drug-related crimes are sometimes punished harsher than those who commit acts of violence. Possession of over 50 grams of crack means a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, while a first-degree rape in the state of New York carries a mandatory minimum sentence of six years. Are we truly safer as a nation with all these drug laws that have created war zones in our inner cities and fund the actions of organized crime?

I am a drug teetotaler — I completely abstain from illegal drugs in any form. But although I do not use drugs, I understand that the choice to use drugs is one of the privileges of freedom. People should be allowed to shoot up heroin, if they choose. But this privilege also comes with the responsibility of curbing your actions while under the influence. Mugging someone for drug money, attacking police while hopped up on angel dust, frying your brains and forcing others to take care of you, or any other drug-related action that affects others for the worse is not responsible drug use.

I do have a problem with the idea of repealing all drug, tobacco and alcohol laws. While I am a firm supporter of personal freedom, I understand that in each of these three cases, there are plenty of people who have abused and will continue to abuse the freedoms of others through the mishandling of drugs, tobacco and alcohol. I believe you should have the right to puff away on a crack pipe, but if you steal to feed your habit, the response from society should be severe. Because the result of mishandled responsibility is so great, society has the right to protect the suffering innocents and punish the offender. Drinking a few beers with the guys while watching the Super Bowl is a responsible use of alcohol, but driving while drunk is not. Doing so proves that you are a menace to society, and a societal menace does not deserve freedoms.

While 70 years separate us from the repeal of Prohibition, I do not see much difference between last century’s attempt to prohibit alcohol use and our current attempts to stop tobacco and drug use. The comment H. L. Mencken made in 1925 is just as valid today. It is still a question of personal freedom and responsible use of that freedom.