By Libby Sternberg
(Note: You must read to the end of this story for an important update.)
In what civil rights activists are calling a “stunning slap in the face” to local devout Muslims, the town of Gallate, TX (pop: 13,000) has passed an ordinance that forces local food vendors that provide catering services to any public event to include “among the proteins offered, at least one pork item.”
Mohammed al Ibrahim, the owner of Specialty Foods in Gallate, operates a food catering business that, until the ordinance, regularly landed local town food contracts and took part in public events. Now, Al Ibrahim will have to consider going against his faith and handling pork products or pulling out of the events and contracts altogether.
“A good portion of my business is taken away with this,” he said, standing outside his facility, which also includes a popular local restaurant offering Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare. “I cannot continue to operate successfully in Gallate with this law.”
A town council member, speaking anonymously, said she understood Al Ibrahim’s point of view, but believes the town’s common good comes first.
“The pork business is our heart and soul. It puts us on the map. We can’t be offering contracts and opportunities to a group that deliberately excludes our economic interest from its offerings.”
One council member, Jean Sherwood, suggested that the new ordinance was about promoting Gallate and its main business, not in restricting anyone. “If Specialty Foods wants to operate without including pork products in their menus, we don’t have a problem with that.”
Several civil liberty groups have offered to challenge the Gallate ordinance in court, but the Al Ibrahims have not decided whether they’ll sue. A local lawyer suggested the Al Ibrahim family has a good case.
“On the merits, this is one of the most straightforward violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act a court is likely to see,” Wayne Martin said. “The family’s religious beliefs prohibit them from providing food services in Gallate under these circumstances. The council mandate at issue here cripples them.”
April Fool’s. This story is NOT TRUE. So don’t start sending it around the interwebz as an example of hick Southwesterners going after Muslims. In fact, the “lawyer” quote at the end of the story is actually a paraphrasing of the opening paragraph of Hobby Lobby’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.
That was the reason I wrote this tale: to illustrate, for many of my liberal friends, some principles at play in the Hobby Lobby case. If you found yourself sympathizing with the Al Ibrahim family in this story, then just substitute the Green name (owners of Hobby Lobby) in the tale. Instead of being forced to offer pork products, slip in the words “abortifacient contraceptives.” And instead of the fictional town of Gallate, use “the Affordable Care Act” or “Health and Human Services” or even, “the United States of America.”
I know this story isn’t an exact parallel to what has been happening to Hobby Lobby (one could argue that the ACA contraceptive mandate is far more restrictive of religious rights than this fictional town ordinance), but the large points are applicable. The government of the United States is compelling a devout family to offer something that goes against their religious tenets.
I know my friends mean well when they offer passionate arguments about the value of contraceptives and why women should have easy access to them. But, like the Muslim family in this story, the Greens shouldn’t be compelled to offer products that go against their religious views to achieve the government’s goal.
I know my friends mean well when they use glib slogans such as “Keep Bosses Out of My Bedroom,” but that glibness demonstrates a lack of understanding of the facts of this case, the principles involved, and any smidgeon of sympathy for the Greens’ predicament.
We don’t know how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in the Hobby Lobby case, but I at least hope my liberal friends can now see that the Greens have a right to their views, and that the government can achieve its goals—whether those objectives are town promotion or contraceptive access—without impinging on the religious views of individual citizens.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist.
This post also appears at Liberty Unyielding.