Fraternal Order of Police v. City of Newark, New Jersey, (1998-1999)

MuslimCopsThe Becket Fund works to ensure that when governments grant accommodations for non-religious purposes they provide the same exemptions for religious purposes as well. In this case, the City of Newark issued an order requiring police officers to be clean-shaven. However, it exempted those who had medical reasons for not shaving. Two Muslim officers, whose faith demands that they wear beards, were told they needed to shave and that no religious exception to the requirement existed. They were forced by the city to choose between their religion and their jobs.

They instead asked a federal district court to alleviate them from this unconstitutional choice. In June 1998 Becket Fund president Seamus Hasson argued the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on behalf of a group of amici including the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League. On March 3, 1999, the Third Circuit unanimously ruled in favor of the officers, holding that Newark’s policy violated their religious freedom rights under the First Amendment. Then-Third Circuit Judge Samuel Alito wrote the opinion, finding that city’s grooming policy created a “categorical exemption for individuals with a secular objection but not for individuals with a religious objection,” and was thus liable to the highest form of scrutiny, which the city failed to satisfy.

Victorious, the officers were able to serve without violating their faith. Their case set an excellent precedent for people of all faiths who’d rather not chose between their career and their religion.

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