First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
print this   Print

Firefighter's beard a safety hazard, state court rules

By The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — A Muslim firefighter cannot wear a beard on the job because of the safety risk that facial hair poses, a judge ruled on Sept. 22.

Curtis De Veaux sued the city on grounds that the ban infringed on his Muslim faith, which generally requires men to grow beards. But the state judge sided with the city, calling safety a compelling interest that warrants an exception under the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act.

The city had argued that beards interfere with the tight seal firefighters need on their respiratory masks, which deliver oxygen and keep out dangerous toxins.

De Veaux vowed to appeal, saying he would not cut his beard even to save his job.

“As great a job as it is, I still answer to Allah before I answer to the fire department,” he said.

De Veaux, 25, sought to be fit-tested with the mask to try to prove the seal over his short beard met safety standards.

Last month, a federal judge ordered officials in Washington, D.C., to fit-test three Muslim firefighters who sued on similar grounds. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents De Veaux, also represents those plaintiffs.

“The three plaintiffs have fought hundreds of fires. They have never caused injuries to themselves, other firefighters, or members of the public on account of their beards,” U.S. District Judge James Robertson wrote in the recent ruling on the four-year-old Washington case. He also temporarily barred the district from firing the men.

De Veaux argued that the testing was the “least restrictive” way the city of Philadelphia could meet tenets of the state’s religious freedom act, but Common Pleas Judge James Murray Lynn disagreed.

“Directive 13 (the facial-hair ban) ... is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interest in maximizing safety for its members,” Lynn wrote in his order.

Anne Barden, an assistant city solicitor, praised the ruling.

“I think in view of the safety concerns, it’s a very important decision for the city,” Barden said.

No other major U.S. city allows firefighters to wear beards, Barden argued during the non-jury trial last week.

Abdul Majeed Potter, a plaintiff listed as Calvert L. Potter in the D.C. case, said he and another plaintiff were given fit-tests last week and passed. The results of the third man’s test were inconclusive, plaintiffs’ lawyer Mike Boteler said.

The three were recently put on administrative duty, which Potter said prevents him from earning overtime and holiday pay.

De Veaux, who has been on unpaid leave from the department for about six months, said he makes far less in his new job installing satellite TV systems. He earned more than $50,000 a year as a firefighter.

Philadelphia firefighter can keep job, beard for now
In test of state's religious-freedom law, city judge rules that Muslim employee can't be fired while legal challenge proceeds. 06.02.05


Muslim prison guards, New Jersey settle beard dispute

Officers sued the state in March, claiming Department of Corrections policy violated their right to religious freedom. 05.19.00

Ruling: NYPD should allow Sikh to wear turban, beard

Jasjit Singh Jaggi 'proved by a preponderance of evidence that he was discriminated against based on his religious beliefs,' writes administrative law judge. 05.04.04

D.C. fire department can't ban beards, federal judge rules
District didn't meet its burden of proof under Religious Freedom Restoration Act to show that firefighters must be clean-shaven to wear breathing masks safely. 10.04.07

Circuit courts address religion in workplace
By Josh Tatum Four appeals courts find in employers' favor in cases affecting how much employees' religious freedom can be accommodated on the job; a fifth case goes in employee's favor. 04.10.08

Religion in the workplace: Keep your faith, lose your job
By Charles C. Haynes Accommodating employees' reasonable religious practices entails only minimal adjustments by businesses. 09.21.03

Workplace religious liberty

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

Last system update: Tuesday, August 4, 2009 | 07:54:07
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
How to contribute
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment

Religious liberty in public schools
First Reports
Supreme Court
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Freedom Sings™
First Amendment

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment

Lesson plans
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links