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June 10th, 2012
01:40 PM ET

Hasidic NYPD recruit says he was fired over beard length

From Julia Greenberg, CNN

NEW YORK (CNN) - A Hasidic NYPD recruit is planning a lawsuit after being dismissed for refusing to trim his beard for religious reasons, his attorney said Sunday.

Fishel Litzman, 38, was asked to leave the police academy on Friday, his attorney, Nathan Lewin, told CNN. He began the police academy in January, he said, was in the top 1% of his classes and is "highly regarded" by his peers.

The dismissal, Lewin said, is a clear example of "religious discrimination."

"We are planning to bring a lawsuit," the attorney said. "This should not be a practice of the NYPD."

NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said in a statement the department "makes reasonable accommodations in this regard." Beards for religious purposes are to be kept to 1 millimeter in length, he said, adding that there are other Hasidic and Orthodox uniformed members who observe the accommodation.

Litzman "did not comply with the NYPD's reasonable accommodation to keep his beard trimmed," Browne said. "He did not keep it trimmed to 1mm and he stated that it was his intention to never cut or trim his beard."

But as an Orthodox Hasidic Jew "it is absolutely forbidden in my religious beliefs to cut or trim my beard in any way," Litzman wrote in a March 18 statement to NYPD officials, provided to CNN by Lewin.

Litzman has "wanted all his life to be a police officer," Lewin said. "He always worked to help people."

Litzman wrote that after receiving a 97.6% on his entrance exam last year, he "inquired about keeping my naturally short beard intact" and filled out a religious accommodation form. He received a short letter saying the matter would be addressed when he became a recruit.

After being selected for the 2012 class, the father of five said he resigned his job. "Since I had applied for an exemption before I was accepted and had already been photographed, I believed that the NYPD was aware of my religious needs and accepted me knowing I needed to keep my beard intact," he wrote.

While in classes, Litzman three times was told he would have to cut or shave his beard. Each time, he refused, citing his religious beliefs, Lewin said. He was also punished with the loss of two vacation days, according to Litzman's memo.

He notes that other officers have beards, and said he was told repeatedly that if he cut his beard now, he would not be asked to do so again after leaving the academy.

"I cannot, as a matter of religious conscience, follow that instruction because I may not trim my beard even temporarily to complete the academy," he wrote.

"One of the points that has been drilled home during my short time at the academy is the need to represent the NYPD with integrity," Litzman wrote to police officials. "Although not knowing whether I will be punished for maintaining my religious beliefs has been very taxing on me and my family, I will not waver in my firm belief that I can be a successful member of the NYPD and an Orthodox (Hasidic) Jew at the same time."

He said that as his academic and physical scores show, "I am focused on dedicating myself to being the best probationary police officer I can be."

Asked if other factors could have contributed to Litzman's dismissal, Lewin said, "I don't think it's anything else ... He would - will be, I believe - an outstanding police officer."

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in a statement Sunday he was "deeply troubled" by the reports Litzman was fired for refusing to trim his beard.

"The NYPD has done a commendable job in recent year of building a police force that tries to reflect the populations that they serve," Stringer said. "Fishel Litzman should be no exception. I urge the police commissioner to reconsider this case as well as the NYPD's rules about religious accommodation more broadly and, in so doing, to make a clear statement in support of religious expression for all."

- cnngc

Filed under: Judaism

soundoff (141 Responses)
  1. dsch26

    It is a safety issue for the officers. He knew going in that there were requirements on beard length, so he has no reason to cry since he was the one who refused to follow the rules. Just the fact that the department allows a beard at all is surprising to me.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  2. TommyD

    He knew the rules when he joined. There it is. He knew what was coming. If he didnt want to follow the rules, he shouldnt play the game.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  3. pablo

    The fact that the NYPD even allowed him to keep a beard is accommodation enough. If you refuse to abide by the standards then you shouldn't be a cop. Being a cop requires wearing a uniform, passing mental and physical evaluations and maintaining a specific type of professional appearance. In allowing Mr. Litzman to maintain his bears, then the NYPD will be forced to accommodate everyone. What's next? Cops running around in traditional Sikh dress...turbins and all? Maybe having female cops wearing a hijab? Where does it stop?

    June 11, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  4. jnail7

    I call BS on the safety issue. To the trained fighter, having a long beird or hair is a strength. You want your opponent to grab at them. The second an opponent grabs hair or beird, they are vulnerable and open to a number of easy attacks. If you are feeling nice, then they have just handed you their limb to bar or lock as you see fit. If you are feeling not so nice, then you have clear access to permanently damage their arm or make critical strikes to their now undefended face/body. Also, their focus will be on their grasping of the hair and beird, serving as a distraction to the upper part of your body so you can execute a debilitating stomp to the lower half of their body.

    I know from personal experience, that when someone is dumb enough to grab my hair, I take a breif moment for a silent prayer of "thank you" and then procede to end the fight.

    Safety is a non-issue in this case. It is simple the unthinking adherence to policy that has no empirical basis for its existence.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Shadowflash1522

      I'm not a cop, so I can't speak to it with any confidence, but I don't think they can accurately be classified as "highly trained fighters". Military personnel, probably, but not your average cop. To your average cop, trained a number of years ago and not too physically fit, a hair/beard grab is a sudden pain which is at best a simple distraction and at worst inflicts genuine injury. Furthermore, physics suggests that a hair grab can be a handy place to use to control a vulnerable part of the body, the head. Lastly, medicine indicates that the scalp is rich in nerve endings, so anyone would find a hair grab painful.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • SLArbiter

      Beards and safety are NOT a non-issue, you're just looking at it from a very narrow perspective (fighting).

      People who work on oil rigs and are at a risk of coming into contact with H2S gas are supposed to be clean saven since anything that breaks the seal on their mask can lead to death. Granted, I don't think cops are going to be comming into contact with highly poisonous gases on a regular basis but in the event that they do have to wear a respirator for one reason or another, then a beard could indeed be a safety hazard.

      Just saying...

      June 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • tboulan

      "I know from personal experience, that when someone is dumb enough to grab my hair..." Dude! – how many fights are you getting into?

      June 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • KAT DAVIS

      SORRY TO BE THE BEARER OF BAD NEWS, BUT I AM GOING TO HAVE TO CALL BS ON YOUR POST. YOU HAVE BEEN LUCKY! STOP WHILE YOU ARE AHEAD. AS A RETIRED POLICE OFFICER , I CAN TELL YOU FROM MY EXPERIENCE–WHERE THE HAIR GOES, THE BODY FOLLOWS! IF I GRAB A HAND FULL OF HAIR, AND USE IT TO THROW SOMEONE TO THE GROUND, I CAN PUNCH THEM IN THE FACE A LOT QUICKER THAN THEY CAN PUNCH ME IN THE ARMPIT, AND THAT IS WHERE THEIR THROW USUALLY GOES. ALTHOUGH THAT IS NOT A CORRECT USE OF PPCT, ALL IS FAIR WHEN YOU ARE IN A FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE, NOT JUST A SCUFFLE OVER WHO WON THE VIDEO GAME.

      June 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  5. pamik

    He most likely joined just so he COULD bring a discrimination lawsuit. You'd have to know you couldn't have a long beard. It doesn't have anything to do with religous discrimination...it's a safety issue.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  6. jean luc picard

    the policy is in place to protect the safety of the officer. when in a altercation a perp can grab it which can result in harm to himself, other officers and the public at large. The dude is selfish ashhole willing the risk the public safety for a personal agenda.

    June 11, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  7. Mr. Bo

    What will he do on the sabeth and he has to work past sunset

    June 11, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Or even worse! What if he had been assigned to a woman as his training officer? Or what if he had been assigned a non-Jewish partner? My question is why is a man who is almost as old as some of the retiring officers doing joining the force? Unless he is joining as an operational specialist will he be able to keep up with the physical nature of the job?

      June 11, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  8. Shadowflash1522

    This isn't a religious issue. The only real problem here is that there was confusion over whether or not he would be granted the accomodation he thought he was getting. He filed a form before he joined and they said they would look into it. He interpreted that to mean that they would take him on his terms, when in fact they were probably referring to their existing rules on beard length.

    Normally I would say let him wear his hair any way he wants to, but long beards are a safety hazard–any criminal can just reach out and give it a yank, at best distracting the officer and at worst injuring him. I believe long hair is forbidden as well for the same reason.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  9. LOL

    Sorry, but the department has its rules. Trim the beard or find another job. It is what it is. Try walking into work in a speedo and telling them it's part of your religion. See how far that'll get you.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  10. Wake up

    This religious idi0t KNEW that before going in. If you can't meet the requirements don't do it. Religion is not part of the police force. Don't bring it in just to pick a fight. Trim the damn beard or leave the school. If you refuse to do that, then too bad. Religion is not part of it but he's showing what its more important. I would not want to be a partner to this guy.

    June 11, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  11. ProgVet

    How rediculous and wasteful of time. Anyone with a partial clue understands a long beard represents a sizable risk for a police officer, as the beard could easily be grabbed and the officer injured. As the standards were understand and have been well established, this is just another person hollering "the sky is falling" without merit.

    June 11, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  12. Fenris

    Get over it, buddy. You knew the rule going in. It's not religious discrimination, it's safety. I have no patience for this man's intolerance of rules enacted for his safety as an officer. Where's that Attention Horse meme?

    June 11, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  13. Abbey

    If he loves his religion to the point of not wanting to cut his hair, then he should find a job with his religion. Your job is your job and religion is another thing. He should not be allowed back in the academy even if he decides to cut his facial hair because one day, he will bring a religious problem unto NYPD. I have spoken.

    June 11, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  14. Doc Vestibule

    In 2004, the NYPD was forced to reinstate a Sikh traffic officer who had lost his job for refusal to remove his turban or shave his beard.
    Traffic Enforcement Agent Jasjit Singh Jaggi won and was working with a turban and a beard until he resigned his post, at which point the NYPD went back to their old rules.
    The precedent has been set and the NYPD will lose this court battle.

    June 11, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Scott

      Unless it can be proven that the ruling was made on the wrong grounds and that the logic behind it was faulty. Sounds like a tough fight, But public safety should always over rule relious sentiment. Sad when common sense is tossed aside for foolish political correctness. Logic and reason should never be pushed aside for religous demands to subdue reason.

      June 11, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      That guy was obviously trying to make a point. Most Sikhs that I know living here in the States and in Canada do not wear their beards and turbans. Especially since 2001, when anyone with a beard and turban is immediately suspected of being a terrorist.

      June 11, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  15. mjd

    He knew the rules going in and he was aware that the final decision would come when he became a recuit. Once they leave the academy some recuits fail probation or quit. He's not special. If he committed a crime and was sent to prison he'd have that beard cut. NYPD is probably well rid of him.

    June 11, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  16. G H

    I am sorry if the guy wanted to be a police officer for a very long time, then he should have known policy. Just like with anyone else that has a heart felt desire for something you do research and you get all the information you can about any particular subject, including a career. I stand behind the police commiss. for holding policy and expelling this guy for insubordation, I am sure he was given a book during orientation that explainedeverything is detail, and according to his account he states that "inquired about keeping my naturally short beard intact" he did this before he was even in the acadamy. He should have applied again to his instructors after he was accepted. I am sorry but rules are rules and there are safety issues and personally I wouldn't expect the NYPD to stand down from this, if an officer came up to me that had a long uncut beard wearing a uniform and told me to do something, I wouldn't believe it for a minute that he was a cop.

    June 11, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  17. jaysmot

    Why would you even accept him in the first place and say were figure it out just show up and try and beat around the bush then fire him...... stop worrying about beards and soda NY .... god what happened to NY.

    June 11, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Bloomberg happened to New York.

      June 11, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  18. Cynders

    When my son applied for a job at UPS , he was given the 'rule' book & told he had to have a 'clean' face. Why would this be any different than any dress code policy?

    June 11, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Shadowflash1522

      I would argue that it is different from a dress code standard in that dress code usually implies a strictly aesthetic standard–we want our employees to look nice and professional. This is as much a safety issue as a neatness one, because long beards and long hair (and turbans for that matter) are a liability in hand-to-hand combat. In my book, religious convictions trump aesthetic concerns, but safety trumps both of those.

      June 11, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  19. Sweetazmom

    The way I see it, the rules are to be followed. I can see a reason for requiring him to keep his beard and hair trimmed (and mustache) also. Grab hair and pull it is an effective weapon against some one (as are earring, and other piercings). Please don't try to say as a Hasidic Jew he will never get in a scuffle with a suspect. It is for his protection as well as to enable him to do his job effectively. Sorry son, you know the rules you follow them or you find another job, perhaps you could work for a security company who don't have a dress code as restrictive to your beliefs.

    June 11, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • Scott

      You're absolute correct. This is a matter of safety for not just the officer but for those he is intending to protect. He must be able to do his job effectively and anyone who knows even a little about fighting, knows any long hair is a liability in a fight and will be used effectively against you to defeat you.

      June 11, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  20. anna

    Just another idiot Jew trying to tell the Police force what they can and cant do.

    And they wonder why they are not liked.

    June 11, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      They might wonder why they're not liked, but it seems fairly obvious why someone wouldn't like you.

      June 11, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • ninja guy

      Your an idiot

      June 11, 2012 at 10:18 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.