Court Rejects Muslim Police Officer’s Demand for Accommodation of His Religious Practice of Wearing a Full Beard

The case is Wallace v. City of Philadelphia (E.D. Pa. Apr. 26). The court’s reasoning:

1. Because the police department didn’t allow anyone to wear a full beard, it had no obligation under the Free Exercise Clause to carve out an exemption for religious objectors.

2. Under FOP Newark Lodge No. 12 v. City of Newark (3d Cir. 1999) (Alito, J.), the city does generally have an obligation to provide a religious exemption when it provides the same exemption for secular reasons, such as for people who have medical problems that make shaving inadvisable. But because Philadelphia’s medical exemption applied only to beards that were no longer than 1/4 inch, Wallace was entitled only to to this exemption (which he concluded was inadequate for his religious reasons) and nothing more.

3. The city doesn’t have to accommodate the religious objection under Title VII’s “reasonable accommodation” test, either, because (quoting Webb v. City of Philadelphia (3d Cir. 2009)), “what is at stake is the Philadelphia Police Department’s perception of its impartiality by citizens of all races and religions whom the police are charged to serve and protect. If not for the strict enforcement of [the uniform rules], the essential values of impartiality, religious neutrality, uniformity and the subordination of personal preference would be severely damaged to the detriment of the police department.”

4. My favorite quote: A police inspector testified that, when she examined Wallace, she “said to herself ‘that you could hide like a dwarf in the beard or something.'”