Former recruit Fishel Litzman dreamed of being a NYPD police officer. But weeks away from receiving his shield, the New York City kicked him out of police academy because he refused to trim his beard.
"I always wanted to be a police officer," said Litzman, a 38-year-old father of five who speaks Hebrew and Yiddish and was once a paramedic, according to MSNBC.
But Litzman is Hasidic and believes that cutting his beard is forbidden by God.
The NYPD doesn't share that belief. The department likes their officers clean-shaven.
But hiring its first Hasidic officer in 2006, the force now has at least two dozen Orthodox Jewish officers says the Daily News.
“I don’t understand what the problem would be,” Litzman said.
A case of religious discrimination
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne says he knows the problem and so should Litzman.
“The NYPD makes reasonable accommodations in this regard," said Browne, about the department's policy of permitting beards for religious purposes to be kept to 1 (millimeter) in length. “This was explained to the recruit in the Police Academy.”
Litzman was first cited in January for his unkempt beard.
His attorney, Nathan Lewin, shot back the same argument. He said the police department knew when Litzman applied that he would not trim his beard.
“He said from the outset it was a matter of religious observance. He never made a secret of it.”
Now, Lewin says, he sees the real problem: religious discrimination.
Lewin surely knows what he's talking about, having previously fought and won beard battles for observant Jews with the Army and Air Force.
Meanwhile, PoliceOne.com says Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer issued a statement Saturday saying he was "deeply troubled" by the firing.
"While the NYPD can exercise control over the personal appearance of its force in order to ensure that all officers are capable of performing their duties, they are also required to make a reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs," Stringer said.
Sign up and you sign on
"Accommodation" is a bad word over at PoliceOne.com. Most put it like this: if you want the job, conform to the rules.
The Daily News reported that the NYPD has, at times, had difficulty adjusting to changing demographics in the city.
PoliceOne user mikeb0721 is one such example, saying 35 years have gone past and people tell him he's stuck the past, but there's a reason for that: the combination of police work and religion causes problems.
To avoid those problems, he says, "any applicant should stand ready to follow an existing set of rules and regs." It all comes down to this: "sign up and you sign on."
"If you believe God FORBIDS cutting your beard," asks PoliceOne user code4wjc. "isn't it safe to think HE knows the rules of the NYPD?"
PoliceOne user esu5 says that Litzman should never have been hired in the first place. "You want the job conform to our standards," the user writes.
Nevertheless, Stringer wants Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who signed off on the firing Thursday, to reconsider the case, CBSNewYork reports.
“I remember when the police force did not have African-Americans, Latinos and women in numbers that would reflect the New York City population,” Stringer told 1010 WINS, “and great strides were made."
"This is another case where we should take a look at these rules so that we continue to get a diverse police force that can respond to the many different citizens of this city.”
What do you think? Religious discrimination or Legitimate policy? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.