Somali immigrant
Halimo Ahmed places a cut of meat on a belt at Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)" border="0"/>
Somali immigrant Halimo Ahmed places a cut of meat on a belt at Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Disputes between Colorado meatpackers and Muslim immigrants over accommodating prayer in the workplace are nothing new, with t he latest clash occurring this week when 190 employees at Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan were fired.

Spokesmen for the company and the mostly Somali immigrants have offered different versions of what prompted the firings, so it's hard to say who's at fault. Under state and federal law, employers must reasonably accommodate workers' religious practices, but not to the point they impose "undue hardship" on the operation.

In a workplace like meatpacking with a production line, agreeing to requests for daily prayer can be extremely tricky — especially if several workers wish to leave their post at the same time. But it's important that employers attempt to resolve the difficulties and, when possible, meet workers' desire to practice their faith.

In fact, it's a distinctly American responsibility given our First Amendment's "free exercise" clause that guarantees religious liberty. That liberty is eroded to the extent that deeply valued religious traditions are impossible to exercise.

That's why it is somewhat disheartening, if perhaps not surprising, that only 61 percent of Americans in a new survey say it is very important or extremely important that Muslims be allowed to practice their faith freely, compared to 82 percent who say that about Christians.


But there is a more optimistic way to consider these findings, too. Even in the wake of Paris and San Bernardino, not to mention the anti-Muslim demagoguery of Donald Trump, a solid majority of Americans still feel strongly that Muslim religious rights must be protected, according to The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

And that includes 60 percent of Republicans. (For reasons that aren't clear, political independents appear less interested in protecting religious liberty — whether of Christians, Jews, Mormons or Muslims — than either Democrats or Republicans.)

We'd like to see that percentage closer to 100 percent, for all religions, but at least religious intolerance remains a distinctly minority opinion, even in an era of widespread anxiety over Muslim integration into the wider culture.

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