CAIR-PA Offers to Mediate Firefighter Beard Dispute

Islamic group says safety and religious accommodation are compatible

(PHILADELPHIA, PA, 9/21/2005) – The Philadelphia office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Philly) today offered to help mediate a dispute over whether Muslim firefighters in that city may wear beards for religious reasons.

CAIR-Philly said its national office has assisted in the resolution of beard-related cases involving other public institutions such as the Virginia Department of Corrections, the Detroit Fire Department and the New York State Park Police.

A city lawyer argued yesterday that safety concerns should prevent a Muslim firefighter from wearing a religious beard. The city says facial hair interferes with the tight seal needed on face masks. A Muslim firefighter has sued the city saying the prohibition of beards violates the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act.

SEE: “Safety Crucial in Firefighter-Beard Case, City Argues” http://www.phillyburbs.com/pb-dyn/news/103-09202005-544198.html

CAIR says there are alternative types of face masks that might satisfy safety and religious concerns. In support of that claim, CAIR cited a 1996 OSHA “interpretation” that read in part: “The OSHA standard does allow beards with the use of respirators that do not rely on a tight face piece seal between the respirator inlet covering and the underlying skin (i.e., both loose fitting helmets and hoods are acceptable in this regard).” The council also cited a 2003 statement by Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health John L. Henshaw, who wrote: “Some types of respirators do not require a face seal and can usually be worn by bearded employees. Specifically, these are positive pressure respirators of the hood and helmet type, and types that can be used with a continuous-flow, supplied-air respirator, where facial hair and beards will have less effect on the fit.”

“Safety and religious accommodation are not mutually-exclusive and we would like an opportunity to demonstrate that fact to city officials,” said CAIR-Philly Communications Director Adeeba Al-Zaman. Al-Zaman said a CAIR booklet, called “An Employer’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices,” is designed to prevent these incidents from occurring.

The guide is available at: http://www.cair.com/Portals/0/pdf/employment_guide.pdf

CAIR, America’s largest Muslim civil liberties group, has 31 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

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