DOJ sues school district on behalf of Muslim over beard-length restriction

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Photo credit: www.theartnewspaper.com

The Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit accusing a Pennsylvania school district of violating a Muslim employee’s religious freedom by requiring him to comply with its grooming standards.

The School District of Philadelphia established a grooming policy in 2010 that requires police officers and security guards to maintain beards at a maximum quarter-inch length, according to the complaint, Philly.com reported.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Siddiq Abu-Bak, who had not trimmed his beard in the 27 years he worked as a school police officer. Although Abu-Bakr notified the district that his religious beliefs prevented him from cutting his beard, he was reprimanded and told that “further disciplinary action” would result if he didn’t trim his facial hair.

Philly.com reported:

The lawsuit claims the district failed to consider Abu-Bakr’s request for “reasonable accommodation” to its grooming policy. The district instead denied the request without showing that complying would cause undue hardship, according to the suit.

Prosecutors said Abu-Bakr filed a religious discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which referred the matter to the Justice Department after determining there was reasonable cause to support the allegation.

Through the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the United States is seeking that the district be required to create new grooming policies that don’t discriminate against employees. The lawsuit is also seeking monetary damages for Abu-Bakr and others who are similarly situated.

“No employee should be forced to violate his religious beliefs in order to earn a living,” Spencer Lewis Jr., district director of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office, said in a statement. “Modifying a dress or grooming code is a reasonable accommodation that enables employees to keep working without posing an undue hardship on the employer.”

Meanwhile, the Justice Department continues to challenge the Little Sisters of the Poor’s claim that Obamacare’s contraception mandate violates its own religious beliefs. The U.S. Supreme Court granted the Catholic nuns a temporary exemption in January while the issue is litigated in the lower courts.

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