LAS VEGAS (CN) – The Las Vegas Metro Police Department’s no-beard policy violates workers’ constitutional rights to religious freedom, U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt ruled.
The decision came after Metro detective Steve Riback, who is an Orthodox Jew, sued the Metropolitan Police Department in Aug. 2007 when he was ordered by his boss to shave his beard. As Metro explained it, “beards prevent the proper fitting of gas masks,” and “undermine officer uniformity,” according to Hunt’s decision.
Riback started in Metro’s Vice Squad when he joined the force about a decade ago, but was later transferred to the Quality Assurance department because of its more lax dress codes that might allow Riback to cover his head and wear a beard.
In Wednesday’s ruling, Hunt wrote that “Metro must allow Riback to wear a beard while in Quality Assurance, subject to the same restrictions on officers who wear beards for secular reasons.”
But Hunt stopped short of saying Riback should be allowed to wear a yarmulke to work, noting that Riback’s request only sought permission to wear a beard in his current post.
The issue of yarmulkes will be decided by a jury. Trial is set to begin Oct. 20.
In his opinion, Hunt noted the uniqueness of Riback’s situation: his “faith requires that he wear a beard and cover his head; his profession requires that he shave and not wear a hat indoors.”
The importance of religious neutrality within the police force was also not lost on Hunt, but he noted that “people are unlikely to view a closely trimmed beard … as a religious symbol.”