2021 Victories: ACLJ Secures Another Victory for Religious Freedom When Public Employer Tried To Restrict Faith in the Workplace



December 28, 2021

3 min read

Religious Liberty



This is the latest installment of our year-end Victories Series, looking back at some of the numerous victories by the ACLJ in 2021.

Earlier this year, the ACLJ was contacted by a Messianic Christian after he had been told he could no longer come to work without shaving his beard. We immediately rolled up our sleeves to get to work protecting his rights.

Our client hasn’t shaved his beard in over 35 years because of his religious beliefs based on ancient biblical tradition. Once his public employer mandated a no-beard policy, he wrote a very detailed and compelling explanation in a letter addressed to his supervisors for why he could not remove his beard. In a very unconstitutional response, he was told that he must take unpaid leave indefinitely until he shaved his beard.

That is outrageous. Not only did this violate his First Amendment right to practice his religion, but it was also without warrant. Our client’s line of work is purely administrative, where he uses a computer in his own private office without external interaction. There also was no doubt as to the sincerity of his beliefs. In fact, he had already been granted religious accommodation to observe the Sabbath as well as specific annual religious feasts.

But just like with other violations of our protected rights, his superiors’ reasoning essentially came down to “it’s required because we are in the middle of a pandemic.”

As soon as COVID-19 became an issue, our client immediately began to practice social distancing and wore a mask at all times during his office hours. He complied with any and all requests of his government employer for proper pandemic protocols. However, this was not enough. His supervisors insisted that he shave his beard or he was not allowed to work. He was not even offered the opportunity to work remotely. Our client sent his religious accommodation request through the chain of command, but his rights were denied at every turn, until the ACLJ stepped in to represent him.

We sent a demand letter arguing that while a public employer has a responsibility to uphold safety and security during a pandemic, our client’s beard was not harming anyone. He worked alone in his office and was willing to take any additional precautions. We reminded the employer that public employees do not lose their First Amendment rights the minute they walk into their place of employment. We further explained that these kinds of regulations against religious liberties must be pursued through the least restrictive means as required under First Amendment jurisprudence. This policy was clearly not the least restrictive means for ensuring a safe work environment.

Thankfully, as a result of our legal efforts, the government employer responded by changing the policy prohibiting beards and inviting our client to come back to work as soon as possible.

The radical Left has launched an assault on faith and religious liberty. We must fight to protect our rights now more than ever.

To help the ACLJ continue to have the resources we need to protect your religious liberties, please consider making a Tax-Deductible donation to the ACLJ through our year-end Matching Challenge. Your gift will be DOUBLED, dollar for dollar, through the end of the year.

You can read more in the ACLJ’s 2021 Victories Series here.

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