Letting a teacher wear a veil when she’s not in class teaching children is one thing. Letting people have religious exemptions that nobody else gets is a whole other thing. It makes no sense for bus drivers to be allowed not to drive buses with pro-gay ads or for cab drivers to be allowed not to drive passengers with alcohol without being sent to the back of the taxi line (hat-tip to Pam).
In both cases, the best comparison is to political messages. A partisan bus driver who asks not to drive buses featuring another party’s campaign ads will be told to drive the buses he’s assigned to or find another job. So will a sex-negative feminist who asks not to drive buses with ads she thinks objectify women, or an environmentalist who asks not to drive buses with ads for SUVs.
It’s understood that everyone has the right to support and spread any political party or ideology he likes. It’s also understood that this right does not cover public interactions. To do that would turn majority rule into a mockery; it would allow everyone to have an extensive network of businesses that support their values only. You can have a pillarized society like the Netherlands used to be, but that only gives these rights to the largest groups.
The cab driver story is even worse. The Muslim cab drivers already have the right to refuse a fare for a variety of reasons, including not just carrying alcohol but also being transgendered. That in itself is bad, but now the drivers are complaining that the rules don’t privilege them by letting them not take a fare for religious reasons without going to the end of the cab line.
The argument many of Pam’s commenters fielded for letting cab drivers discriminate against riders in this fashion is a legalistic one: the Civil Rights Act only forbids discrimination on a few specific bases, such as race and gender. Although that is mostly an argument for broadening civil rights legislation, it doesn’t hold water here, because it can only justify the current situation.
It’s impossible to justify the privileging of religious reasons not to take a fare without privileging religion itself. Free exercise is not enough here; by the same legalistic argument, I can argue that in its broadest sense it forbids religious discrimination, but doesn’t mandate privileging religions. You can’t get the rules changed to accommodate your religion’s tastes when it comes to not taking fares you don’t like any more than you can get them changed if you want to stone adulterers.
And even a straightforward ethical argument is enough here. Religion is a belief or a social identity; it’s at times like political affiliation, and at times like race. When a person insists on discriminating against customers so blatantly, it’s clearly like political affiliation, in which case enacting special protections makes no sense. It makes no sense when pharmacists refuse to dispense emergency contraception (please follow the link and help out; I would if I had money), and it makes no sense when cab drivers refuse to take fares their chosen deity doesn’t like.