NEW YORK (Aug. 26)
A hearing was held last week on the complaint of a Hasidic Jew who claims he was forced to resign his position as a Federal Protection Officer because of his beard. The Federal Protection Service provides security personnel for federal facilities.
The hearing was on a complaint filed last March with the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer of the Federal General Services Administration. The complainant, Gershon Elgner, is being represented by Dennis Rapps, executive director of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA) and Leo J. Kimmel. a COLPA volunteer attorney.
At issue is the validity, as applied to Elgner, of an employment regulation which provides “The face will be clean shaven, except for a mustache, if desired.”
According to Sidney Kwestel president of COLPA, aside from constitutional requirements which, in the absence of a “compelling necessity,” bar governmental action which adversely affects a person because of his religious observance, the U.S. Civil Rights Act protects such observance in employment. Kwestel noted that witnesses at the hearing, including Elgner, testified that it is a common practice of Black Federal Protection Officers to sport small tufts of hair between their lip and chin. A decision by the GSA is expected within the next two months.
Kwestel noted that Rabbi Michell Geller, represented by Nathan Lewin, a COLPA vice-president, was recently ordered reinstated by a federal judge as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. Geller was separated from the Air Force because he refused to shave his beard which he wears as a matter of religious observance. An Air Force regulation requires that except for medical reasons, all Air Force personnel must be clean shaven.