capitol dome section with flagWritten by Don Byrd

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) this week sent a letter to the CEO of Airlines for America, an organization that represents major U.S airlines, seeking answers about recent incidents in which Muslim Americans have been removed from domestic flights. Specifically, Durbin focused on the experience of Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, an Iraqi refugee and student at the University of California at Berkeley, who was reportedly ordered off of a Southwest Airlines flight after another passenger heard him speaking Arabic in a phone call while the plane was still boarding.

Makhzoomi received a refund, but not before being subjected to questioning by law enforcement.

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

Airlines are entrusted with enormous responsibilities to keep our skies safe while respecting the rights of all passengers. No airline passenger should be subject to discriminatory treatment on the basis of the passenger’s religion or ethnicity.   

Ethnic and religious discrimination strikes at the core of our nation’s commitment to equal protection for all. In 2011, I chaired the first-ever Congressional hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims, which documented an alarming increase in anti-Muslim bigotry.  And U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently denounced the “disturbing rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric.”  In this environment, our nation’s airlines must pay special attention to their responsibility to ensure that the civil rights of all passengers are protected.

I would like to know what Airlines for America and its member airlines are doing to prevent incidents of discrimination from occurring.

As Durbin notes, ethnic and religious discrimination run counter to our values of religious freedom. Businesses should have plans in place to handle complaints in a way that does not infringe on Americans’ full participation in society simply because of their perceived faith. Here’s hoping the Senator gets some answers.