Lawsuit over religious head covering

September 9, 2008 5:52:56 PM PDT
A Philadelphia policewoman's religious garment is again at the center of a legal fight between the officer and her bosses. The officer argues that the dispute is over religious freedom.

Officer Kim Webb faced being fired when she wore an Islamic head covering called a hajab or kahmir with her uniform.

"This is my religion, this is what I believe. And I believe I can still serve the City of Philadelphia as an officer," said Webb.

She challenged the city in federal court but lost.

Tuesday, she and her new attorneys were in appeals court. They point out that christian officers sometimes wear crosses, angel pins, and ashes at the beginning of Lent.

"Christian symbols have been allowed by the City of Philadelphia. The district court below dismissed that evidence. We believe that was incorrect, but it's also both free speech and the exercise of religion clause," said Webb's attorney Jeffrey Pollock.

The City of Philadelphia says it's a matter of uniformity, pointing out that thousands of its armed, uniformed officers wear essentially the same clothing.

"When a person sees a police officer, what they see is the same shirt, the same uniform, the same attire, that's it. That's what this case is about," said Mayor Michael Nutter.

Another argument: Other large cities, including Washington, D.C. where police commissioner Charles Ramsey was once top cop, have allowed for religious head coverings.

"If we know that you can have the same rights 60 miles away in New York, 120 miles south in D.C., why shouldn't you have it here in Philadelphia?" Pollock said.

But Mayor Nutter says "Commissioner Ramsey is in full support of the position that had previously been taken by police commissioner Johnson. There was a consistency across the board. Our position is there's one uniform for police officers. We issue it, and nothing else is allowed."

A three judge appeals panel now has the case, and it is expected to issue an opinion in the next 60 to 90 days.

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