Cashier Refuses to Serve Student Wearing Pro-Zionist T-Shirt:

From the Washington Post:

Mia Lazarus put her chips and juice down on the counter and prepared to pay. But in the midst of the lunchtime rush, the cashier's eyes wandered to Lazarus's T-shirt, which expressed a political message that proved to be overwhelming for the clerk.

One glance at the words "Baltimore Zionist District" on Lazarus's "I Stand for Israel" T-shirt, and the cashier at the Maryland Food Collective, a crunchy grocery and sandwich shop in the student union on the University of Maryland's College Park campus, blurted: "Your shirt offends me. I won't ring you up." The cashier told Lazarus she could go to the back of the store to find another clerk....

Lazarus wasn't much inconvenienced:

Lazarus got her food; another cashier at the independent, worker-owned co-op was willing to take the student's money. But the incident led to the creation of a Facebook site on which some students called for a boycott of the food co-op; an hours-long, teary meeting at which Lazarus and her friends hashed things out with the collective; and then an agreement.

The collective, which rents space from the university, announced last week that it would serve any customer who was not physically or verbally abusive, but that any worker who was offended by a customer's politics could discreetly slip away and find another clerk to serve the patron.

That seems right to me: If the collective can accommodate its employees' personal preferences without inconveniencing the patron (assuming there's no material delay), and if it wishes to accommodate such preferences, that's fine.

Still, it's unfortunate that some patrons would be so intolerant of support for Zionism that they would refuse to do business with those who wear such T-shirts. One aspect of everyday tolerance is that you don't let most political disagreements get in the way of doing business together. There are exceptions (I wouldn't want to do business with someone wearing a KKK T-shirt, and I'd take the same view about Che Guevara T-shirts if I thought most of their wearers really supported what Che stood for, rather than just engaging in political posturing). But people who believe that support for Israel and Zionism should fall within that narrow zone are, in my view, morally mistaken.

I would also not endorse laws that ban such discrimination; nor would I argue for First Amendment protection here, since the co-op is a private entity, and its renting government property shouldn't affect that analysis (cf. Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, but see Wilmington Parking Auth. v. Burton).

At the same time, the University of Maryland is entitled to make sure that space that it rents out on its campus is available to people without regard to "race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, personal appearance, age, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental disability, or on the basis of the exercise of rights secured by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution" -- even when the difference in treatment involves a few seconds of delay, which the patrons will likely understand stems from a server's refusal to serve them. (I quote this list from the Human Relations Code; I'm not sure it's literally applicable here, but there may be similar terms in the co-op's lease, and in any event the University may set up such rules for its lessees.) And I particularly liked the reaction of Gretchen Metzelaars, director of Maryland's student union, met with the collective "trying to help them come to the conclusion that they must abide by the university's human rights code":

Despite hours of conversation, "it became apparent that they were not coming to the right conclusion," Metzelaars said. "So we delivered it to them." This week, she told the collective that if it discriminates again, it will have 60 days to vacate the premises.

"They can't see that this is discrimination .... They're more committed to their righteousness than they are to the rights of other people. The fact is, you have to serve everyone."

The collective finally seemed to get that idea, Metzelaars said. But then, "we finished our discussion, and they said, okay, but if someone came in wearing a swastika, we wouldn't serve them. And I said, 'Whoa! That's the problem right there: Everyone gets to say what they believe, and you have to serve them.'"

Not the only approach that would be proper, I think, but a sensible approach, especially in a university.

Finally, let me close with this: "The students don't want to come off as haters. When Lazarus and others active in Maryland's Jewish student groups met with the collective, the visitors baked a vegan chocolate cake and brought it as a peace offering." Something about that "vegan" is just so apt.