Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Interesting discrimination case

Posted by sanityinjection on January 6, 2009

The ACLU has announced that the federal TSA and JetBlue Airways have agreed to settle a lawsuit by Raed Jarrar for $240,000. Mr. Jarrar sued after he was asked to cover a T-shirt with Arabic writing in order to board the plane:

There are some interesting aspects to this case. First, Jarrar complied with the request and was allowed to fly. He therefore has no proof that the authorities intended to refuse to allow him to fly if he had declined. If he had wanted to sue, he should have refused, then he would have grounds.

Second, Jarrar had to know that as a Middle Eastern-appearing person with a goatee beard and an Arabic  name, wearing a T-shirt with Arabic writing to an airport is a little like waving a toy gun around. I do agree that the Arabic writing alone should not be grounds for being banned from a plane, but Jarrar should well have expected to be the absolute center of attention throughout his flying experience, including being moved to a seat where the flight crew could keep an eye on him (Airlines can move your seat at any time for any reason.)

So I think Jarrar probably would have lost the case had it gone to trial, but obviously the defendants had an interest in avoiding bad publicity. Now he can afford to fly all over the place on JetBlue’s and the taxpayers’ dimes.

What if Jarrar’s T-shirt had featured a photo of Osama Bin Laden? At what point does the airline’s concern about a possible disruption on board the flight outweigh an individual’s right to freedom of expression? I think there is a gray area here. Certainly we do not want to get to a point where “Flying while Arab” constitutes a crime, yet I also do not believe it is inherently discriminatory that people of obvious Arab origins be scrutinized.

There are some interesting comments on this story here:


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