(Philadelphia, PA 1/10/08) – The Pennsylvania chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-PA) announces its support for Philadelphia Police Officer Kimberlie Webb’s appeal for religious accommodation. CAIR-PA is one of nine signatories to an amicus brief submitted to the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Officer Webb.
Officer Webb’s attorneys have filed an appeal to a district court decision which barred her from wearing a hijab (religious headscarf) while in uniform.
SEE CASE DETAILS BELOW
The amicus brief augments the case laid out in Officer Webb’s appeal by poignantly arguing that the trial court, in reaching its decision in favor of the Police Department, relied heavily on a 30-year old decision that does not reflect the current state of flexible and religiously sensitive uniform policies of public safety agencies throughout the country.
In February 2003 Officer Webb’s request for religious accommodation to wear a hijab while in uniform was denied by the Philadelphia Police Department citing Directive 78, which describes the approved uniform for Philadelphia Police. Directive 78 does not, however, address religious symbols or clothing as part of the uniform. Officer Webb filed a motion with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleging religious discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1966.
In June 2007 the Court dismissed Officer Webb’s Title VII claim without a hearing because the trial judge accepted the City’s argument that Directive 78’ serves a compelling governmental interest and is non-discriminatory. The court further felt that requiring the Police Department to accommodate Officer Webb’s request constituted an “undue hardship” on the City because it had the potential to cause religious divisiveness within the police department and among Philadelphia’s diverse residents.
On appeal, Officer Webb argues that it was inappropriate for the trial court to dismiss her claim on summary judgment without giving her the opportunity to testify herself, as well as to call witnesses in support of her claim. Regarding the city’s claim of undue hardship, Officer Webb argues that the trial court erred because the City provided no proof that allowing her to wear the hijab would constitute an undue hardship. The appeal further argues that the trial court overlooked relevant facts brought to its attention that supported the conclusion that Officer Webb’s hijab would not, in fact, negatively affect the City. Finally, on appeal, Officer Webb argues that the City’s selective enforcement of Directive 78 is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause because the City has in practice allowed Christian officers to wear crosses and other religious symbols. Further, the City allows Muslim men to wear beards but makes no similar accommodation for woman to wear a hijab.
The amicus brief specifically identifies police agencies in some of America’s largest cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C., as well as many other smaller jurisdictions that have already provided accommodations similar to those requested by Officer Webb without incident. It further highlights other public safety organizations, such as fire and emergency, corrections, and security agencies at the local, state and federal level that also permit religious accommodations to uniform policies. Finally, the amicus brief points out that today, in certain instances, all branches of the U.S. armed forces permit service members to wear religious clothing while in uniform.
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