Let's be clear from the start, I'm just making a sandwich, not exercising reproductive choice.
In the checkout line, my cashier, a black woman in hijab, scanned the salami where it lay on the conveyor. She then said something to me that did not register. I thought maybe she was puzzled as to how to proceed with my reusable shopping bag (that's me, trying to win back anti-consumerist karma) and was asking if she could place my remaining ten items in twelve plastic bags. I gestured toward my French loaf and my fabric bag. She returned my befuddled look and clarified:
"My religion does not allow me to touch pork. Will you put the pork in your bag?"
I was in buy mode, not blog mode, so I cheerfully grabbed the salami and put it in my grocery bag. My cashier scanned and bagged the rest of my items... which, interestingly, included a frozen pepperoni pizza that didn't set off her haraam alarm.
When I got home, I got to thinking. The Muslim pork taboo isn't just about touching swine flesh. My salami was packaged in plastic and cardboard. The taboo can logically extend to refusing to be complicit in the sin of others who would eat such foul meat. My cashier didn't refuse to complete the transaction, as some Muslim cashiers have done with customers elsewhere buying pork or alcohol. But my cashier did decline to provide me with a basic service that her customers and her boss expect her to provide.
Remember, it's just salami. One package of salami.
But how many cashiers are Muslim? (At my nearest Walmart, many.) How many customers have pork products in their baskets? Multiply those numbers by stores, and you start exerting a noticeable downward pressure on customer experience and check-lane efficiency. And suppose on a certain slow shift, every member of the minimal checking crew is Muslim. At that hour, does Walmart have to hang a sign directing all ham buyers to the self-service checkout? Or for the sake of its business model, does Walmart have to ensure that every cashier on every shift can handle every transaction that a customer may bring to the till?
Whether we're talking salami or birth control, I could see any retailer saying that if you have moral principles against certain products, you shouldn't work in stores that sell those products.
But can we say that? Can we tell Muslims (and Jews, and fundamentalist Christians who take Leviticus 11:7–8 at face value) that they don't get to work as grocery cashiers? Or do faithful cashiers get a conscience clause that means I take my meat to the self-service counter?