Are we starting to get to oversensitive about peoples beliefs. I am one of the biggest supporters of people and there beliefs. IEven if I don't always agree with them I do respect them for it because they have the right to belive what they want to. But I am beginning to wonder if we are becoming to sensitive. I don't know.

The Metro Transit dispute raises questions about the point at which accommodating one group's beliefs infringes on the rights of others.

H.J. Cummins, Star Tribune
A city bus driver who complained about a gay-themed ad got official permission not to drive any bus that carries that ad, according to an internal memo confirmed Tuesday by Metro Transit.

Transit authorities call it a reasonable accommodation to the driver's religious beliefs.

Amalgamated Transit Unit Local 1005 officials at the bus company say it condones intolerance; besides, drivers never have been excused from other buses carrying ads they found objectionable -- from political candidates to pink bras.

Requests for religion-based considerations are increasingly in the news, as workplace observers say more Americans bring their faiths to their jobs. A bank in Otsego declares itself to be a Christian bank, for example. Some pharmacists want the right to refuse to fill contraceptive prescriptions.

Also, many Muslim taxi drivers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport refuse to accept passengers who are carrying alcohol.

The ad at the center of the Metro Transit flap is for Lavender, a local magazine for a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) audience. It runs periodically on 50 city buses and carries a photo of a young man with the slogan, "Unleash Your Inner Gay."

The memo to dispatchers at the Nicollet garage in Minneapolis was dated Oct. 12. It listed 25 buses at that garage that carry the Lavender ad, and said not to give them "under any circumstances" to the complaining driver, identified only by employee number.

"Our diversity office determined that we could make a simple, reasonable accommodation on religious ground by not assigning her [the driver] to one of the 25 buses -- out of 150 -- at the Nicollet garage," Metro Transit spokesman Bob Gibbons said.

"The decision has nothing to do with the content of the advertisement," he said. "It has everything to do with the employee's religious beliefs."

Lavender CEO Stephen Rocheford was poised "to examine all our options" if Metro Transit did try to pull the ad, he said.

Rocheford also believed the fuss is unfair because he chose an innocuous image.

"To us it's just a branding campaign," he said. "I wasn't trying to stick anything in people's faces."

Gibbons has no slippery-slope worries. Future requests will follow the same civil-rights law applied in this case, which says employers must accommodate an employee's religious beliefs unless it brings "undue business hardship," he said.

But Michelle Sommers, Local 1005 president, isn't so sure.

"Our union tries to represent all diversity -- whether it be religion, cultural, race, sexual orientation, any of that," she said. "And if you start saying this or that ad is inappropriate, you're offending other people, and that can create a difficult environment for people to work in.

"We have Muslim employees," she said. "Now if there's an ad for alcohol on the side of a bus, should Muslim employees be allowed to not drive that bus? And is the next step that mechanics don't have to work on the bus?"

The controversy echoes a still-unresolved issue at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where many Muslim taxi drivers are refusing to drive passengers who are carrying alcohol.

Driving a bus doesn't mean you endorse the ads that cover it, Sommers said.

"The company sells ads to make money, and we need that," she said. "But the union does not agree with the decision to allow drivers to pick which bus they drive based on an advertisement."