A report from today's Sunday Times (subscription required) casts an interesting light on another issue that has been in the news lately:
The transport minister has intervened to stop guide dogs and their blind owners from being ordered off buses because Muslim drivers or passengers consider the animals unclean.
The refusal, for religious reasons, to carry even guide dogs has become so widespread that it was raised in the House of Lords last week by Lord Monson, a crossbench peer.
Last night Norman Baker, the transport minister, signalled to bus companies that a religious objection was not a reason to eject a passenger with a well-behaved dog.
"If dogs are causing a nuisance, a driver has every right to ask the owner to leave," he said. "It is much more questionable to be asked to remove a dog for religious reasons. One person's freedom is someone else's restriction."
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association said that, although refusing to take a blind person with a dog in a bus or taxi was illegal under disability discrimination law, it received constant complaints from members.
There had been so many reports from blind people with guide dogs who had been thrown off buses or refused a ride by cab drivers that it had held talks with Islamic organisations about the problem.
The Muslim Council of Britain yesterday urged Muslims to show tolerance and common sense. "We need to be flexible on this," said a spokesman. "Muslim drivers should have no hesitation in allowing guide dogs into their bus or car.
"Some schools of Islam regard the saliva of dogs as impure and others think there is no problem. If a dog does lick you, it’s not the end of the world. Just go home and wash yourself."
I like the minister's 'much more questionable'. That's 'much more questionable' in the same way that something which is a complete and utter waste of time is 'perhaps not to be recommended'. In fact, pitching a blind person off the bus because his or her guide dog is impure according to one's own belief sytem is bloody outrageous. It should be a disciplinary offence in the second instance and a sacking offence thereafter. For it is a requisitioning of public space, or at any rate space public to the extent of being covered by disability law, to impose a restriction on others who do not share the beliefs in question - even though the activity thereby restricted is not demonstrably harmful to anyone and is demonstrably helpful to someone. It is as outrageous as forbidding women to wear the burqa - with the difference that in the latter case the requisitioning of public space to impose an ideology-inspired, non-harm-based restriction on the freedom of others is being done (where it is) by governments that ought to know better.