NYPD Facing Religious Challenges From Jewish and Muslim Applicants

New York is facing a couple of religious challenges to barring recruits from the police academy. The first is a Jewish applicant who was fired for failing to cut his beard to a proscribed length. The second is a Muslim applicant who was fired for saying that he believed homosexuals should be locked up in answering a series of questions on a police form.

In the first case, Hasidic police recruit Fishel Litzman was barred from becoming an officer after he allegedly repeatedly failed to trim his beard. While officers are required to be clean shaven, an exception is made for beards grown for religious purposes.
Litzman, 38, is alleging religious discrimination and his lawyer said that the police academy was fully aware at the beginning of his training that “he would not trim his beard.” The case will be a difficult one given the accommodation for beards up to 1 (millimeter) in length. He would have to show that such a length is still unacceptable for Hasidim and that longer beards do not pose any problems for officers or departmental discipline. Litzman insists that “as an Orthodox Chasidic Jew it is absolutely forbidden in my religious beliefs to cut or trim my beard in any way.” That would allow a very long beard, which could raise issues of greater vulnerability during scuffles and arrests of the officer.  However, it is a clear benefit to have officers who can better interact with insular cultural and religious groups in New York.  It could prove to be an interesting case.

The case involving an applicant referred to as “Farhan Doe” could be more difficult. He believes that homosexuality is wrong — a view probably shared by a number of officers. He was barred from the academy after checking the “yes” box next to the question, “Do you believe that homosexuals should be locked up.” The question in my view is dangerously imprecise for free speech purposes. It is not clear whether the question is suggesting that he believes that he should arrest them as an officer or whether he was being asked about his personal views of gays. The applicant is currently an auxiliary cop in Brooklyn and says that he is willing to soften his views to be an officer.

The issue raises the difficult question on whether racist or prejudicial beliefs are a barrier to service if they are stated as a personal rather than a professional matter. The problem is magnified when we are discussing an issue upon which many citizens have a strong moral disagreement like homosexuality. If this man was saying that he believed gays could be arrested today for being gay, I have serious qualms about his potential as an officer. If he was saying that he personally would like to see homosexuality as a crime, it raises a different issue. The problem is that the question does not appear to distinguish between the two. I will not deny that I would prefer to have officer who do not hold such prejudicial views. However, there are free speech concerns raised in the controversy.

What do you think?

41 thoughts on “NYPD Facing Religious Challenges From Jewish and Muslim Applicants”

  1. bigfatmike 1, October 7, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    The issue isn’t mine, it’s yours.

  2. bigfatmike 1, October 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    I spent four years in the U.S. Navy right after high school. What did you do? EM5 Navy.

    1. Matt, let me thank you for your service.

      Nevertheless, you occasionally make remarks that reflect stereotypical thinking.

      I don’t care if you are a lifer and have thirty years in the military. You owe us and yourself better than bigoted nonsense that you occasionally spew.

      Your service and my service are not the issue. Once again: the issue is the issue.

  3. The question on the form filled out by the Muslim applicant was very skillfully written. It did not ask if the applicant opposed homosexuality, on religious, emotional, scientific, or other grounds. It asked whether the applicant thought that homosexuals (a certain kind of person, not a person who has committed a certain kind of crime) should be “locked up.” A person who gives himself over to the actual livid HATRED of homosexuals, if that person were fit to serve the state in a capacity of a law enforcement officer, should still be able to answer that question NO, a homosexual should not be “locked up.” In other words, the question skillfully asks whether the applicant’s own particular emotional or moral aversions would cause that applicant to conclude that law enforcement, the agency he wants to work for, should do something about that applicant’s personal hatreds.

    It would be similar to my thinking: “This guy I hate should be locked up.”

    Now, if I think a guy I hate should be locked up, I’m free to call the police and report him. They get to decide whether they should act on my tip. They should decide that based on the law, not on either their hatred or mine. I’m free to hate. They’re not free to make decisions based on it.

    I think it was wise of the department to not make him a cop; I think they have a valid state interest in narrowing the gap between what SHOULD be done by their agency and what GETS done by their agency. We see evidence of that on a daily basis. Imagine this guy beat up a gay or even presumed gay guy and arrested him for resisting arrest and got caught on video and appeared on the Turley blog. Then imagine it was discovered that on his application the cop had said, “I believe homosexuals should be locked up.” WOW! ❗

    About the Hassidic applicant with the beard, I tend to side with the Department again because I think it is unlikely that this was not essentially a “staged” action. But I wonder if they shouldn’t seek enabling legislation to create a subdivision of deputies who are permitted to serve WITHIN the Hassidic areas while retaining long beards. I haven’t studied the question very long and may change my mind about it; need to give it more thought.

  4. bigfatmike 1, June 18, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    @Matt Johnson “The Muslim applicant should move to Iran. The Jewish applicant, well, too bad.”

    What Matt, ‘your country, love it or leave it’??? Surely we have learned something in the past 40 years.

    bigfatmike, are you stupid, big and fat? That’s a question. Maybe you should get some exercise.

    1. @Matt Johnson “bigfatmike, are you stupid, big and fat? That’s a question. Maybe you should get some exercise.”

      Matt, lets, for the sake of argument, stipulate that I am big, fat and stupid, and that I should get some exercise. How does that in any way affect the reasonableness of your remarks that “The Muslim applicant should move to Iran. The Jewish applicant, well, too bad.”.

      Matt, the point is that I am not the issue. The issue is the issue.

      I don’t think your remark is defensible. It reflects stereotypical

      Your remarks seem to be based on the idea that all members of a group like Muslims or Jews have the same characteristics, and that it is therefore reasonable to judge all Muslims and Jews without regard to their individual differences.

      In that sense, Matt, your reasoning is little different from the reasoning from the radicals who seem to believe that all infidels, or everyone from the west or everyone from the US are all the same and deserve the same treatment.

      Matt, you have had the benefit of being born in this country, which includes free education and exposure to many points of view available because of our commitment to free speech.

      Matt, I expect more from you and you owe us better than the bigoted nonsense that you occasionally spew.

      Having said that, Matt, let me emphasis that I am committed to free speech and I fully support your right to make obtuse remarks that are a public embarrassment to yourself.

  5. BigFatMike: “I would say the real problem is in the failure of society to hold government workers to well known, widely accepted standards.”

    Yeah, and YAY!

  6. The Muslim applicant should move to Iran. The Jewish applicant, well, too bad.

    1. @Matt Johnson “The Muslim applicant should move to Iran. The Jewish applicant, well, too bad.”

      What Matt, ‘your country, love it or leave it’??? Surely we have learned something in the past 40 years.

      I oppose homophobia and religious zealots as much as any reasonable person.

      But if we make it safe to remove people from government service because of what they think rather then their behavior and commitment then it is not the bigot who will be removed from the government.

      The people asking the questions and making up the questionnaires are likely to be the most narrow minded. The people under examination and answering the question are likely to be the kind of tolerant open minded people who read this blog.

      As a result the well intentioned policy to limit bigotry will likely have the unintended consequence of putrefying and concentrating bigotry and hatred inside government.

      That is not to say that there are some individuals whose opinions are so strongly felt that those individuals should not hold office.

      But as a general rule we are all much safer if we inform candidates for government service of what is expected, train them to act according to standards rather than according to their own values, and monitor their performance.

      Unless there are extenuating circumstances, if a person pledges to uphold the law then we ought to give them a chance to perform.

      We will know soon enough if they meet their pledge.

      I would say the real problem is in the failure of society to hold government workers to well known, widely accepted standards.

  7. Where I worked we had an asbestos removal team that had to wear full body overalls and a fitted face mask with HEPA air filters. The applicants that had beards were rejected if they would not cut off their beards. The hiring for the team (which got good pay) was done from within and the union covered the team members as well as the applicants. A couple of people with beards did not want to cut their beards off and complained to the union about the requirement but they were out of luck, the requirement was an OSHA requirement, not a company requirement. The best fit for the mask was with no facial hair.

  8. You know, in Hebrew Law (I am no expert but I know a few things because a very smart guy who was also a Rabbi told me) there is a law called, I believe, something like “Pakuach Nefesh” meaning “to save a soul.” The idea is not to proselytize to “save someone’s soul” — it is the plainer meaning, that every OTHER law can and must be set aside if someone’s life is in danger and you are acting to protect the life — yours, someone else’s, whatever. So if you have to do what Jesus did on Sabbath (heal someone), you invoke that law and do it, you do not hesitate.

    So why wouldn’t you trim your beard so that you could effectively patrol the streets and protect people from harm? The whole argument is a tempest in a teapot, inapplicable from the inception.

  9. Patrick, that was my first thought when I read the article. I just did not want to get mixed up in the religious aspect of the job selection issue. There is a good reason that officers who wear neckties with their uniforms always wear clip-ons and not a full around-the-neck tie. My daughter wears her hair in a bun when on duty. Not flattering, but practical from a safety standpoint.

  10. I personally would have to question the intelligence of any applicant, who thinks wearing a “grabable” beard on the mean-streets is wise. Drunks and arrestees can get downright pissy.

    And then, there’s the little matter of his gas mask, which works far better if it fits.

    One wonders how much homework this fellow has done on his prospective career.

  11. I think Tony C hits a strong chord on the issues. Police forces are, now more than ever, paramilitary (sometimes frighteningly so). For such organizations uniformity, conformity, discipline and obedience are essential elements. If the regs say no beards, it’s no beards. If one believes the nuances of their religious faith make it impossible to comply with the regulations of a public service, tax funded job as a police officer, they have already made the choice to not be a cop. It’s a natural logical consequence of putting one’s religion pre-eminent in our secular culture. Being Jewish also disqualifies this man from being a priest.

    As for the homophobe, it certainly seems reasonable that NYPD can righfully expect its officers to enforce the laws uniformly and fairly among all citizens. Here again, putting one’s sectarian beliefs ahead of the equal application of the laws of secular society sounds more like a news story from Iraq or Afghanistan than New York City. That’s not the way America is supposed to work and once again religion rears it’s head as being contrary to the American concepts of democracy, equality and community.

  12. Dredd 1, June 13, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    anon 1, June 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Let’s all thank the psychologists for paving the way to our Orwellian future.

    They belong in a pit with the lawyers dumped on top of them.
    Wanna be a cop do you?

    anon 1, June 13, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Yeah, I wanna be a cop. That’s why I said the psychs should get out of our heads and stop imposing their bullshit on society.
    Not gonna happen.

    Gotta pass the psych exam first.

    Can’t do that when you hurt the shrink for asking questions that cause … well let’s just say epic fail shall we.

  13. When you join the military you give up certain civil rights. The same can be true for other forms of public service. If somebody is a homophobe, racist, misogynist or so religiously devout they cannot conform to a standard uniform appearance, keep them off the force.

    Police need to be instantly recognizable by citizens. Would we allow someone to be a cop that refused to carry a weapon, was a pacifist, had a religious prohibition on anything but sandals, or adhered to the Old Testament instruction from God that he must have tassels with a blue thread on every corner of his clothing? In fact, hasn’t dress been protected under the rights of free speech? Would we allow a cop that refused to wear the uniform at all?

    I think if you want to be a cop, you have to look like a cop (for public safety in the form of recognizability) and prove yourself capable of impartiality, I see no reason to make any exception for religion, gender, or free speech.

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