New Jersey Firefighter and Christian Pastor Files Lawsuit Against Fire Department for Making Him Shave Beard He Grew for Religious Reasons

New Jersey pastor and firefighter, Alexander Smith, 42, preaches in Atlantic City in July 2017. | Photo: Facebook

A born-again Christian firefighter and pastor in New Jersey has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Atlantic City as well as the fire department’s chief and deputy chief for threatening to suspend him without pay unless he shaved a beard he claims he grew for religious reasons.

In the lawsuit which was filed last week, according to NJ.com, the 15-year veteran firefighter Alexander Smith, who also leads the Community Harvesters Church in Atlantic City,  is suing the city and his superiors, Chief Scott Evans and Deputy Chief Thomas Culleny Jr. for violating his religious freedoms under the First Amendment and for violating the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, NJ.com said.

He is also seeking an injunction to prevent any adverse employment actions against him as well as an award of compensatory and punitive damage.

Smith, who works as an air mask technician at an annual salary of $115,000, said he began growing out his beard last December as an expression of his faith.

He tried to get special accommodation for his 3-inch beard from the city on Jan. 3 since beards are prohibited by the fire department’s guidelines. The city, however, denied his request on Feb. 15, due to “overwhelming safety concerns” for Smith, as well as other firefighters, the lawsuit said. Facial hair can affect the seal of the breathing apparatus mask firefighters wear when they face fires, the report said.

Smith argued that as an air mask technician, when he responds to fires it is “solely for the purpose of refilling SCBA air bottles,” according to the lawsuit.

“His job responsibilities do not include participation in extinguishing fires or search and rescue,” it adds.

Due to the denial of his religious accommodation he is now required to show up for work clean shaven. Smith’s attorney, Luna Droubi, has filed a request seeking a temporary restraining order against the shaving requirement until his lawsuit is resolved, allowing him to keep his beard for now.

Smith must prove he would face irreparable injuries and that his constitutional rights would be violated in order for a temporary restraining order to be granted.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leonardo Blair