Penn. police officer denied right to religious attire
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group, today called on the Philadelphia Police Department to allow a Muslim police officer to wear her Islamic head scarf while on duty.
Beginning in 1998, the Muslim officer — who has been on the force for eight years – had several requests for religious accommodation turned down by supervisors. When the patrolwoman went to work wearing her head scarf earlier this week, she was reprimanded, sent home without pay and told not to come back until the scarf was removed. The officer is now being threatened with termination if she again comes to work with her religious head covering.
On August 6th, CAIR sent a letter to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson (http://www.ppdonline.org/) outlining the department’s legal duty to accommodate the religious practices of employees. That letter sought an investigation of the case, requested that dress code policies be amended to allow religious exemptions and recommended sensitivity training for department staff.
“A restrictive dress code policy cannot supersede an individual’s sincerely-held religious beliefs, particularly when the Muslim officer is willing to modify her scarf to address any safety concerns,” said Joshua Salaam, CAIR civil rights manager. “Given the growing religious and ethnic diversity of our society, creative solutions must be found to balance the needs of employers with the religious rights of employees as guaranteed by the Constitution and federal law.”
Salaam applauded the Philadelphia Police Department’s recent decision to change its no-beard policy by allowing officers to grow facial hair for religious or medical reasons. He called on the department to make a similar accommodation for the female officer.
In a similar case last year, Illinois’ Cook County Sheriff’s Department allowed a Muslim and a Jewish deputy to wear religiously-mandated head coverings while on the job. That decision came after concerned Muslims from across America contacted the sheriff’s office to request religious accommodation for the two officers. In 2001, CAIR helped a Muslim woman firefighter in Maryland win the right to wear an Islamic scarf while at the same time addressing her employer’s concerns about safety.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religious beliefs or practices. The act requires employers to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee, unless to do so would create an undue hardship. CAIR publishes a booklet, “An Employer’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices,” designed to prevent these types of incidents.