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NYPD to allow officers to wear turbans, beards for religious reasons

A member of the New York City Police Department stands guard during a group prayer session for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on Aug. 12, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stephanie Keith

(USA Today) Islamic advocacy organizations are praising a new decision by the New York Police Department to allow Muslims to wear beards and Sikhs to wear beards and turbans with their uniforms for religious reasons.

The move comes as the NYPD has been stressing diversity within its ranks, partly as a response to heightened tensions between police and communities across the country.

In an impassioned speech after the presidential election in November, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised New York City would take legal action before complying with the campaign proposal from President-elect Donald Trump to establish a Muslim registry. A marketing campaign in the subways has encouraged people of all faiths and ethnicities to apply for jobs with the department.

“We want to make the NYPD as diverse as possible and I think this is going to go a long way to help us with that,” police commissioner James O’Neill said.

The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic relations applauded the decision, noting that before the move, Muslims on the police force could only grow their beards up to 1 millimeter. They are now allowed to grow beards up to a half inch from their faces.

“We applaud this long-overdue step to make sure the NYPD better reflects our city’s diverse communities,” CAIR-NY executive director Afaf Nasher said in a statement. “We are particularly grateful to the work of Public Advocate Letitia James in advocating for Muslim officers who were previously asked to choose between public service and their faith.”

The group United Sikhs, which has offices in New York and throughout the world, has been lobbying for such a change for months and said Thursday that Sikhs were applauding the move worldwide. More, however, needs to be done, its president said in a statement.

“It’s a win for the officers but also the community members who will reap the benefits of a more diverse police force patrolling their neighborhoods,” said Hardayal Singh, executive director of United Sikhs.

“While we are undoubtedly celebrating the welcome move to allow turbans we will not be satisfied until the NYPD and other forces across the country make appropriate changes to the policy on facial hair,” the statement continued. “The Sikh religion forbids cutting or shaving any bodily hair. Until Sikhs can serve without any of their articles of faith being called into question we will keep pushing the NYPD and other forces to make the necessary accommodations.”

Sikhs consider the turban a symbol of their dedication to serving humanity. They wear it as a crown. It also is considered as a way to preserve the Sikh identity. Sikhs do not cut their hair as a way of showing respect to God. The turban helps protect their hair.

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  • The trouble with religious accommodation is when to stop. No one was happy with 1mm length beards. The Sikhs seem OK with 1/2″ beards but CAIR stated they were going to be pushing for longer beards for Muslim officers. Are Pastafarians required to wear a colander and, if so, will the NYPD accommodate them? Will companies be required to provide prayer rooms? What about accommodating Muslim prayer requirements? What if a potential employee in retail doesn’t want to handle or sell tobacco, alcohol or items forbidden by their religion? The problem is that religious accommodation is a slap in the face to equal treatment of all citizens.

  • The minute a perpetrator gets away by yanking a police officer’s beard, the policy will be limited. They wear clip on ties just out of fear of that sort of thing.

    I figure if the British Army could handle people in turbans and beards in combat conditions, for well over a century, the NYPD could manage.

  • I don’t have any issues, per se, with Sikhs. I don’t think there would be any safety issues involved nor would I be offended by a Sikh officer. It’s the accommodation for purely religious reasons that bugs me. That’s patently unfair.

  • Another step to sharia law & the conquering of America by islam. Americans are committing cultural suicide. Patriotic Americans & President Trump must stop them or America is over.

  • How so? In America we typically make accommodations for any number of pragmatic or non-pragmatic reasons in a host of different environments.. Fairness does not enter into it in the negative sense you imply, non-religious officers are not compelled to adopt the accommodations provided to those that are, your argument contains a logical inconsistency.

  • The accommodation implies that arbitrary religious practices overshadow the requirements for duty. This special consideration of one religion’s practice also supports the notion of superiority of that religion over others, which is moving in the wrong direction for humanity.

  • Yet CAIR, with taliban & isis ties, pushed this. The NYPD already has 900 muslims on the force. Tolerance must have limits. If people don’t want to assimilate let them stay in their 3rd world toilets. Many of our forefathers died to throw off the oppressor. I have no respect for those who run away rather than fight for their own country.

  • My view is as long as there are reasonable limits based on safety and performance of the job, such things should be permitted as a matter of course.

  • Whoa there Nelly! That’s a pretty big leap. It’s not a Muslim issue. We have conservative Christians who want accommodation in their efforts to discriminate against gays on religious grounds. That’s worse than a turban or beard.

  • Who cares how many Muslims (or Sikhs) are with the NYPD? They are citizens and have the rights, privileges and obligations that go with it. Your hatred and fear makes you lump them all together.

  • We treat religious beliefs as something special. They aren’t. Freedom of religion was put into the Constitution to make sure that people could practice their religion freely – something that wasn’t allowed in most parts of the world and what drew persecuted sects to America. They were to have no more right to their beliefs than their secular fellow citizens. No less, no more.

  • The questions you raise would be answered by looking at whether the accommodation is reasonable. Is there already an available room or would one have to be created? What is necessary for the room to be used as a prayer room? Can it be a storage closet? An employee working solo at a convenience store would have a hard time getting an accommodation not to sell tobacco or alcohol. But at a large supermarket that sells alcohol (not all states permit this), the employee would have a better shot.

  • The same constitution that awarded Trump the presidency even though Hillary won the popular vote gives him zero power to do a thing to the NYPD here. Deal with it.

  • Sihks are Muslims? Have you told them? I think they would be pretty surprised by such things.

    I guess all brown skinned people with a different religion than yours are all alike to ignorant bigots.

    Patriotic Americans are the ones who are disgusted by xenophobic and racist rhetoric. Those who understand concepts like equal protection under the law. The ones who uphold and protect civil liberties. You do not strike me as someone like that.

  • New York City has the 2nd largest Muslim population in the US (behind Michigan). Are you saying that police should not be made up of people who live in the city?

    “Many of our forefathers died to throw off the oppressor.”

    They did intend to do so to become oppressors themselves.

    ” If people don’t want to assimilate let them stay in their 3rd world toilets.”

    Would you be saying this about Ultra-Orthodox Jews on the NYPD? They have the same head covering and beard rules as devout Muslims. My guess is you would.

  • Consider Christmas and Easter are actually statutory religious holidays. May seem normal or cultural to most but not likely to be seen similarly by someone who is not of the Christian faith. In 24/7 organizations, there is an actual benefit to staffing such holidays and allowing those who work those days alternative holy days off.