As understood by the God-fearing people who fled to a new land in search of religious liberty, our country was founded on the idea that all citizens are free to exercise their religion in their daily lives, including while at work. Thus, when the ACLJ was contacted by an individual, a Messianic Christian, who was told he could no longer come to work without shaving his beard, we rolled up our sleeves to get to work on protecting his rights.
Our client hasn’t shaved his beard in the past 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 cannot remove his beard. In a very unconstitutional response, he was told that he must take unpaid leave indefinitely until he shaves his beard.
This 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 superior’s 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.
The ACLJ sent a demand letter arguing that even though a public employer has a right to safety and security during a pandemic, our client was not harming anyone as he worked alone in his office and was willing to take any additional precautions. We reminded them 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.
We are proud to announce that the government employer responded by changing the policy prohibiting beards and inviting our client to come back to work as soon as possible.
This experience is a great reminder to never let yourself get bullied for your beliefs! Your religious rights are legally protected while at work. If you are experiencing a similar situation – don’t sit by and let your rights be violated – contact the ACLJ at ACLJ.org/HELP.
As we fight to stop government harassment of Christians, we need YOU. Have your Tax-Deductible gift DOUBLED today. Have your gift doubled through our Matching Challenge.
A church in northern Virginia is being asked by Prince William County – one of America’s richest counties in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. – to get a liquor license to function as a church on their property the way it lets breweries and wineries function. Think about the absurdity of that. The...
In the City of Ocala, Florida, we are currently in a legal battle at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals over a flawed federal district ruling declaring that government officials can no longer encourage citizens to pray amid a difficult time in their community and volunteer chaplains can no...
Last week, and just before the celebration of our nation’s Declaration of Independence, the ACLJ filed our opening brief on behalf of the City of Ocala, Florida, in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to preserve our first freedom: religious liberty . Specifically, we are challenging a district...
A little girl had her Bible confiscated by school officials. How could this still be happening in America? From our founding in 1990, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has been at the forefront of defending the First Amendment rights of students to pray, evangelize, read their Bibles,