A Chasidic Jew who was fired from the New York City police academy because he refused to trim his beard was ordered reinstated by a Manhattan federal judge who held that “de facto exemptions . . . abound” to the department’s beard rule.
The department had maintained that by refusing to trim his beard, Fishel Litzman was unable to be certified in the use of a respirator that relies on a seal against the user’s face for effectiveness. But Judge Harold Baer Jr. ruled in a 10-page decision that “as laudable” as the department’s goal is of having every officer certified in the use of the respirator, fully 30 percent of officers are not certified.
“The NYPD provides no legitimate explanation as to why plaintiff [Litzman] must be terminated when 30 percent of the NYPD officers have not been certified,” he wrote.
Nathan Lewin, Litzman’s attorney, said 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. 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.”
Lewin added that although department has 30 days in which to file an appeal, he does not expect incoming Mayor Bill de Blasio to pursue the case.
Through his attorney, Litzman: “This is a great day for religious freedom in America. This decision will enable me to carry out my life-long dream of serving the people of the City of New York as a uniformed police officer. I am very grateful for the support I received from those inside and outside the New York City Police Department during this long ordeal.”