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In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that some Muslims who work at grocery checkouts in the Twin Cities “are adhering to a strict interpretation of the Qur'an that prohibits the handling of pork products” – and are refusing to touch, scan or bag products that contain any amount of pork.

It is, the paper notes, just “the latest example of religious beliefs creating tension in the workplace,” though it doesn’t seem to be an issue for all Muslims; “the Somali Muslim community is divided between those who believe it is wrong only to eat pork and more orthodox Muslims who believe the prohibition extends to selling, touching or handling the meat.”

“The Twin Cities area has become a hotbed for such conflicts because of its burgeoning population of Somali immigrants, many of whom are orthodox Muslims, the Star Tribune writes.

Dr. Shah Khan, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Minnesota, defended the Muslims in question. “Many of these people are refugees. They may have been tortured. And they came here having never held a book in English," he said. "They're already adapting to our society. We need to adapt to them, too.”

Target, where one recent occurrence took place, released the following statement: "Providing guests with consistently fast checkouts is a key, fundamental part of our business and our guest service commitment. As always, we continue to explore reasonable solutions that consider the concerns of team members while ensuring that we maintain our ability to provide the highest level of guest service."

Haley Meyer, a spokesman for Supervalu, said that her company’s policy is to make sure employees are not placed in jobs that conflict with their religious beliefs.

It should be noted that the consumers with whom the Star Tribune spoke seemed extremely understanding about the issue and voiced no complaints about being inconvenienced.
KC's View:
It seems like we are getting to the point where supermarkets soon will have one checkout lane marked “10 items or less,” another marked “for vegans only,” a third marked “no pork products, please,” and so on.

It is a mark of our increasingly pluralistic and diversified society that these are issues to which we must pay attention. We have little choice in the matter.

The Star Tribune connects the happenings in the Twin Cities with the decisions by certain pharmacists not to dispense the Plan B “morning after” birth control pill. And there is a kind of thematic connection.

But we believe that Supervalu is right on the money when it says that it won’t put employees in jobs that could conflict with their personal beliefs. The same approach should be taken with pharmacists – if they cannot dispense medications that are in stock, either someone else has to be on hand to do so…or they must look for another job.

The analogy with the Twin Cities Muslins breaks down because the checkout people aren’t refusing to sell pork…they’re just not allowed to touch it. If they refused to sell it, and cast aspersions on or passed judgment on people who do buy it and eat it, then that would be crossing a line that should not be crossed.