NYPD reverses ban on religious beards and turbans for officers
“We are making this change to make sure that we allow everybody in New York City that wants to apply and have the opportunity to work in the greatest police department in the nation, to make sure we give them that opportunity,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill announced on Wednesday at a graduation ceremony for new police recruits, according to the New York Times.
While the formal policy will not be finalized next month, the NYT reported Commissioner O’Neill said officers who are granted a religious accommodation from the department’s Equal Employment Opportunity office will be allowed to have beards that extend up to one-half inch from the face. The officers may also wear turbans in place of the traditional police cap. The turbans would have to be navy blue and have the NYPD insignia attached.
Of the recruits who graduated, 33 were Muslims and two are Sikhs, according to the police department.
The Sikh Officers Association, which has about 150 members, welcomed the move, calling it “a proud moment for [the] Sikh community.”
Currently, those officers have been shaving their beards that their faith requires to keep uncut, and stuffing their unshorn hair into turbans that fit under department-issued caps.
The policy change follows a legal case filed in June by a Muslim officer who said restrictions on beard length were unconstitutional.
Officer Masood Syed, a legal clerk in the NYPD, had worn a beard for years for religious reasons but was later ordered by supervisors to shorten it. When he did not, he was suspended. The NYPD reinstated Syed in June and the department agreed to review its beard ban but the case is pending.
Currently under the NYPD patrol guide, officers are prohibited from having beards and non-uniform headdresses but exceptions can be made for officers for religious accommodation. The reason given was the beards interfere with certain gas masks.
The Muslim Officers Society and the Sikh Officers Association have been pushing for the changes, as well as the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group which aims to protect the right to practice the Sikh religion.
Their spokesman told RT without seeing the actual written policy it would be hard to weigh the merits of the change but released the following statement.
"The NYPD's refusal to hire turbaned and bearded Sikhs allows other employers to justify refusing to hire Sikhs. If the NYPD's new policy indeed allows for Sikhs to maintain unshorn beards and turbans, that sends a powerful message to the rest of America that Sikhs are an important part of our nation's fabric," Sikh Coalition Legal Director Harsimran Kaur stated.
Sikh is the world’s fifth-largest religion and the turban traditionally represents love, faith and social justice.