Muslim medical workers in Great Britain are refusing to sanitize their forearms for religious reasons. To wash according to guidelines, some Muslim women say, forces them to bare their forearms up to the elbow, which, they think, is forbidden by Islam. (HT: Lydia McGrew) Dr. Semmelweis discovered the significance of sanitizing hands and arms in 1847—some 1,215 years after the death of Mohammed.
Requiring medical workers to sanitize appears to be facially neutral. Can it reasonably be held to constitute a form of discrimination? Arguably, it is akin to requiring employees to work on the Sabbath. The US Supreme Court, in Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc. (1985), struck down a Connecticut law that forbade employers from forcing employees to work on what they considered to be the Sabbath as an unconstitutional establishment of religion. There is no general obligation to accommodate the religious beliefs of others. Allowing employees to take days of religious significance off, moreover, doesn’t pose health risks. The best possible substitute for sanitizing hands and arms may still expose patients to a higher risk of infection.
I have three questions:
- If hospitals have to hire doctors and nurses who refuse to sanitize their hands, do bus companies have to hire Amish drivers who refuse to operate buses, or people who, for ideological reasons, refuse to obey speed limits?
- If hospitals allow Muslim medical workers to decline to wash, will patients be entitled to ask to be attended by non-Muslim workers? Or will that be discriminatory—even if being attended by Muslim workers correlates with infection?
- If this happens and establishes a precedent: is there a religion that forbids grading papers?