Surprise? Non-alcohol-serving Muslim flight attendant gets respectful media treatment

With all the coverage of the embattled Rowan County, Ky.  clerk recently released from jail after she refused to process same-sex marriages, it was inevitable that we would be hearing about protests from similar protagonists.

There are all sorts of people of faith caught in sticky employment situations where what they’re being asked to do is not precisely what they signed up for when they accepted the job.

As GetReligion has reported quite recently, reporters have had problems getting the facts right plus the degree of snark and outright hostility towards people such as Kim Davis has, at times, been so over the top. Our own Terry Mattingly passed along M.Z. "GetReligionista emeritus" Hemingway's bold use of term “slut-shaming” to describe it.

And so, what happens when someone from a different faith entirely makes a similar argument? Does that change the journalistic equation? Here’s what the Huffington Post said about a Muslim flight attendant suspended for not serving alcoholic beverages:

A Muslim flight attendant for ExpressJet is fighting to be reinstated after she says the airline suspended her for refusing to serve alcohol.
In a complaint filed last week with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Charee Stanley said the carrier had revoked a reasonable arrangement made to accommodate her religious beliefs.
Stanley's lawyer, Lena Masri of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter, told The Huffington Post ... that Stanley approached her superiors in June about how she could avoid serving alcohol to passengers because she recently discovered that Islamic law forbids it.
The airline told her to make a deal with fellow flight attendants so they could provide the beverages, Masri said. The arrangement seemed to be working smoothly until a coworker complained to the airline in early August that Stanley had been delinquent in her duties because she refused to serve the cocktails.

We learn later on in the story that Stanley’s attorney insists there’s no parallels to the Kim Davis episode because her request for accommodation was not at the expense of the rights of anyone else; that serving alcohol is not central to the duties of a stewardess and that she had already worked out an agreement by which other employees would serve alcohol in her place. Plus, Davis was an elected official. Stanley works for a private company.

But still, perhaps journalists can ask -- and report on -- this question: If a Christian has to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples -- or bake cakes for their weddings -- why shouldn’t a Muslim flight attendant have to serve cocktails?

The question has come up before with numerous Muslim cab drivers at the Minneapolis airport refusing to give rides to any passenger carrying alcohol. And then there’s the blind man in Saskatchewan who filed a lawsuit because Muslim cab drivers would not transport his guide dog for religious reasons.

Reading further, we learn in this Washington Post story that she converted to Islam two years ago, one year after she accepted work with ExpressJet. The HuffPost gave lots of space to the CAIR lawyer who explained how suspending Stanley was a violation of her civil rights. There were no Islamic scholars quoted who could say whether Stanley was truly violating her faith (some say it’s forbidden for Muslims to consume alcohol but not to serve it) and there were no outside sources who criticized the flight attendant.

CNN had a similar story with quotes by the lawyer plus a boilerplate quote from ExpressJet’s lawyer. The Detroit News (Stanley was based in Detroit) provided a few more details such as the names of Stanley’s supervisor. It seems that their reporter actually read the EEOC complaint.

The latest stories on this incident have taken an interesting twist. Reporters, including the folks at Talking Points Memo, are going after GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for not standing up for the flight attendant in the same way he has stood up for Davis. Huckabee has pointed out that the airline did provide accommodation for Stanley whereas the state of Kentucky refused the same for Davis.

The reason I’m writing about all this is not to figure out whether the Muslims or Christians are right or wrong in all these cases but to compare the tone of mainstream news coverage. The folks who support the right to have a taxi transport one’s guide dog or carry alcohol in one’s luggage pales compared to the forces out there supporting same-sex marriage. And the latter is the tripwire on which Davis stepped.

Thus, the wrath of journalist-dom has come down upon Davis, ranging from this RNS columnist  to CNN’s take on Davis’ three divorces. I don’t see anyone looking into Stanley’s pre-conversion love life and background.

Or there’s the guilt-by-association stance, such as the Boston Globe’s lengthy piece on Kim Davis that said in part:

But Davis is also the most outspoken of the holdout clerks -- she has issued a statement explaining her stance on the issue and is being represented by the public interest law firm Liberty Counsel, which provides free legal assistance for ‘‘advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life and the family,’’ according to its website. The Southern Poverty Law Center has called the firm an ‘‘anti- LGBT hate group.’’

Naturally, Liberty Counsel was given no opportunity in the article to defend itself against that attack. The SPLC loves to throw the “hate group” term around and to date is listing 784 alleged such groups on its site.

Back to the flight attendant: In my quick survey of coverage thus far, I’m amazed at the respectfulness with which Stanley has been treated and the lack of snark and personal attacks. Whereas with the Davis coverage, there hasn't been much respect and plenty of snark and personal attacks. I'm linked to a number of journalists on Facebook and it's depressing to see how many of them have trashed Davis -- as a person -- on their personal pages or have linked to people who are trashing Davis. Am not mentioning names at this point.

Let's be honest, folks; anything that disturbs the advance of same-sex marriage or gay rights is going to meet opposition from many in the media. Davis is from the same obscure branch of Pentecostalism (RNS had the sense to interview scholar Vinson Synan to get the historical lowdown on that), that some of the serpent handlers I've reported on are from. They're called "Jesus-only" Pentecostals.

The reporters I've met have been super-respectful of these folks -- except if their beliefs conflict with the gay marriage narrative. But just like many scribes learned to live with the beliefs of the serpent handlers, they can also learn some tolerance when it comes to opposing gay marriage. It isn't that hard to do. 

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