Justice Dept. sues School District over beard rule

Posted: March 07, 2014

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday sued the Philadelphia School District, alleging that a school police officer's civil rights were violated when he was ordered to trim his beard, which he keeps long for religious reasons.

In 2010, the district's police chief implemented a dress and grooming code that, a district spokeswoman said, was needed to establish "a sense of discipline among officers."

Part of the code limited beards to one-quarter of an inch in length.

Siddiq Abu-Bakr, a police officer who has worked for the district since 1987, refused to comply, saying his Islamic faith required that he not cut his beard, the Justice Department complaint said.

Abu-Bakr, who has maintained a long beard during the entire time he has worked for the district, was reprimanded for violating the code and threatened with further disciplinary action, the complaint said. He could not be reached for comment.

He filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which decided it had enough merit to forward it to the Justice Department.

"Individuals should not have to choose between maintaining their jobs and practicing their faith when accommodations can be reasonably made," said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

A spokeswoman for the School District said it was policy not to comment on pending litigation.

The complaint requests that the court order the district to halt its beard-length restriction, and "award all appropriate monetary relief" to Abu-Bakr and any other officers who may also have suffered similar discrimination.


bmoran@phillynews.com

215-854-5983

@RobertMoran215

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