In Ruling on Firefighters’ Beards, Both Sides Claim Victory

August 13, 2005

Source: The Washington Times

On August 13, 2005 The Washington Times reported, "A federal judge has ruled that safety outweighs the religious rights of three Muslim firefighters who have refused to shave their beards for religious reasons. U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson issued the ruling late Thursday, which is the latest chapter in the department's eight-year effort to enforce a grooming policy to ensuring firefighters get a proper fit for their face masks. Both sides claimed victory yesterday. Attorney Arthur Spitzer, who represented the Muslim firefighters on behalf of the D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he was satisfied that the judge's order left intact a preliminary injunction prohibiting fire officials from terminating the Muslim firefighters. The judge also stated fire officials must now test the men to see whether they can get a proper fit with their beards. Mr. Spitzer said if the firefighters pass the test, then they've won. He said the real issue is the fire department's effort to institute a grooming policy. However, Judge Robertson's ruling also states the department has the right to remove from active-duty status the firefighters who fail the test, regardless of their adherence to religious beliefs. 'It is encouraging to note that the judge recognizes this is a critical safety issue,' said Alan Etter, a fire department spokesman.  Mr. Etter said that in addition to the three original plaintiffs protected by the 2001 injunction, six other firefighters have claimed religious exemption."