A federal judge on Friday struck down a requirement that firefighters in the District of Columbia be clean-shaven.

A group of firefighters who wear beards for religious reasons first sued in 2001 to challenge the fire department’s “grooming policy.” That policy was replaced with a safety policy in 2005 that held that beards are not compatible with breathing units because they make it impossible to form a tight seal around the face.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled that the district did not meet its burden of proof under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act to show that being clean-shaven is required to safely wear a self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA.

“Moreover, the Department has conceded that, for the vast majority of firefighter activity, a perfect seal between the face mask and the face is not required for safety,” Robertson wrote. “The Department fully concedes that bearded firefighters have worn SCBA units for many years without incident.”…

Many fire departments bar or restrict facial hair among firefighters. In 2005, a judge in Philadelphia ruled that a firefighter could not wear a beard on the job, even though his Muslim faith calls for it.


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