Fishel Litzman, a New York police officer in training and an Orthodox Jew, took the NYPD to court on Wednesday for requiring him to trim his beard for service.
Litzman’s attorneys are saying that the police department’s accommodation, which allows for facial hair up to one millimeter in length, does not satisfy his constitutionally-protected civil right to free religious practice.
“The Police Department is now claiming that Mr. Litzman was dismissed from the Police Academy– where he stood at the head of a class of more than 800– because his facial hair prevented him from using a gas mask known as a MSA Millenium respirator,” said his attorneys in a statement, noting this was not the reason given when he was originally dismissed.
“This claim is unsound because no officer with any facial hair– even shorter than one millimeter– can use a MSA Millenium respirator.”
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication in December, The Jerusalem Report, on Orthodox Jews in the police force, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly explained that uniformity– not respirators– was the justification for the rule.
“Religion is such an important part of the lives of so many of our officers, and it goes along with the beards, the head wraps, the holidays and so forth,” Kelly told the Report. “But the public has a certain image of the police officer, and we need to maintain that philosophy.
“Balance is the goal,” Kelly added, “and we try our best to accommodate.”