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Court: Firing Of Bearded Police Recruit Was Religious Discrimination

A chassidic police recruit who said he was fired from the New York City Police Department because he would not trim his beard was the victim of religious discrimination, a federal court ruled last week.

Litzman, 39, was a month away from graduating from the Police Academy when he was dismissed in June 2012, despite having received test scores of 99, 100 and 96 on Police Academy exams.

U.S. District Judge Harold Baer concluded that Fishel Litzman’s First Amendment rights had been denied because “de facto exemptions… abound” to the NYPD’s unpublished rule that permits facial hair not exceeding 1 millimeter in length, and because the NYPD applies its facial hair limitation “in a discriminatory fashion.”

Litzman’s attorney, the Washington-based constitutional lawyer Nathan Lewin, had previously won rulings against the Army and Air Force for observant Jews over policies not permitting beards. “Judge Baer’s opinion properly emphasizes the discrepancy between the NYPD’s announced limitation on facial hair and the department’s failure to enforce that rule against officers other than Fishel Litzman,” said Lewin.

“We are gratified that Mr. Litzman’s personal claim has been sustained on this basis. But we hope that this is the beginning of the end of the New York Police Department’s refusal to grant full religious accommodations to applicants who may not, for religious reasons, trim their beards.”

-Jewish Press staff, JTA

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