Attorney General Eric Holder and his Department of Justice are trying to force the Philadelphia School District to allow a Muslim school police officer to keep his beard as long as he wants it, against the district’s policy.
The policy, instituted in 2010, states that all school police officers and security guards must keep their beards trimmed to no more than a quarter of an inch. The DOJ filed suit Wednesday on behalf of school police officer Siddiq Abu-Bakr, who has worked at the district for 27 years while wearing an untrimmed beard.
According to Abu-Bakr, he notified his supervisor that his Islamic beliefs made it impossible for him to trim his beard, whereupon he received a written statement warning that if he did not comply with the district’s regulations, there would be “further disciplinary action.” The lawsuit states that Abu-Bakr gave district officials a letter from his imam that stated Islamic law prohibits him from cutting his beard, and the district answered that Abu-Bakr’s request to keep his beard was “outweighed by the integrity of the policy.” The lawsuit says the district ignored Abu-Bakr’s request for “reasonable accommodation” to its policy and simply denied the request without any evidence of undue hardship to the district.
The DOJ said Abu-Bakr started the ball rolling by filing a religious discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sent the case to the DOJ. The DOJ is demanding that the school district change its grooming policy and is seeking monetary compensation for Abu-Bakr and others with a similar complaint.
Spencer Lewis, Jr., district director of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office, intoned:
No employee should be forced to violate his religious beliefs in order to earn a living. Modifying a dress or grooming code is a reasonable accommodation that enables employees to keep working without posing an undue hardship on the employer.