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The Gods of Retail: Alaska Airlines


Planes fly on a wing and a prayer.

In-N-Out Forever 21 Alaska Airlines The Washington Times Chick-fil-A Curves ServiceMaster eHarmony Dominos Pizza McDonald's Alaska Airlines (ALK) has given new meaning to "a wing and a prayer."

Tucked between the semi-edible airline grub, beverages, and impossible-to-open wrappers, is a small card reading:

I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing praise to your name
O most high.

If your Sunday school lessons are a bit hazy, that's Psalm 9:2.

The airline has offered snippets from the Old Testament for about 30 years. This drives some people nuts. A few gripe about the separation of church and state, forgetting that Alaska Airlines operates in the private sector - though it does accept millions of dollars in taxpayer money each year, including some $500,000 to paint one of its planes to resemble an Alaska salmon. And consumers are always welcome to boycott companies whose policies they don't agree with.

But that hasn't soothed the jangled nerves of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin. Its website huffs, "Help educate this airline [Alaska] about the fact that many of its paying customers are not religious or prefer other religious teachings, and are startled and offended to be proselytized as the ultimate captive in-flight audience!"

But who's offended? There are no reports of hordes of outraged passengers storming off Alaska Airline's flights. Customers who write a letter to the airline questioning the appropriateness of the card receive a canned reply that reads, in part:

"The quotes have application across many Judeo-Christian beliefs and are shared as a gesture of thanks which reflect the beliefs of this country's founding…An overwhelming majority of our customers have indicated they appreciate the gesture, and those who don't are not forced to read it."

That's a solid libertarian view that will probably be seen as an in-your-face retort by groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a self-proclaimed collection of "freethinkers, atheists, agnostics and skeptics of any pedigree."

Perhaps the group's real gripe is with Alaska itself, whose name is derived from an Aleut word meaning "Great Land." True enough, in that travel-brochure sense - but isn't that insulting to generally flat, boring states like Wisconsin?

Commercial aviation is about as exciting as a bus ride, so we often forget that it's also an act of faith: Passengers put their lives in the hands of the flight crew, maintenance workers, and the plane's designers.

Luckily, the passengers of US Airways flight 1549, for example, had an unflappable pilot at the controls, and he safely landed the plane in the Hudson River when both engines failed. But as their plane fell from the sky, do you suppose the passengers invoked freethinkers, or called on some kind of god?

There's no constitutional right to not be offended - and if anyone is offended by Alaska Airline's decision to include Psalm 9:2 on the meal tray, too bad. No one's forcing them to fly Alaska Air - that's what makes this a free society.

In any case, the religious message hasn't killed anyone. As they say on big-city concrete playgrounds, "No autopsy, no foul."

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