A Hasidic Jew who was fired from the NYPD for refusing to shave his beard could win the right to rejoin the force.
Fishel Litzman, 39, was just a month away from graduating from the police academy when he was fired last June.
The police department has a rule that beards may not exceed more than 1 millimeter in length. Litzman, who keeps a beard for religious purposes, objected to shaving and is fighting the NYPD in court to get his job back.
On Friday, Federal Judge Harold Baer said that his termination made him a victim of religious discrimination. The ruling may allow Litzman to pursue the career of his dreams.
'I want people to know that you can follow your dreams and never have to compromise your religion. That's what makes this country so great,' Litzman told the Daily News.
According to CNN, Litzman was in the top 1 per cent of his classes at the police academy and was well liked by fellow classmates.
He also told the police academy of his religious needs before he was even a student.
'Since I had applied for an exemption before I was accepted and had already been photographed, I believed that the NYPD was aware of my religious needs and accepted me knowing I needed to keep my beard intact,' Litzman wrote.
The NYPD claims that officers must shave their beards so that they can properly wear a gas mask in the case of a terrorist attack.
Litzman's lawyer, Nathan Lewin, is arguing that the police department made and 'after the fact rationalization' for why he had to shave his beard. He blames their decision on blatant discrimination.
Even though the judge acknowledged that it would be problematic if all cops could not properly wear a gas mask, he also said that the NYPD couldn't claim the '1 millimeter' standard as an official rule.
The NYPD also doesn't enforce the beard rule for undercover cops, who still may have to wear a gas mask in the case of an attack.
CNN reports that when Litzman was a student at the academy he was told, 'Cut your beard, after the academy you'll never have to.' People at the academy also told him, 'it's an unenforced rule.'
'One of the points that has been drilled home during my short time at the academy is the need to represent the NYPD with integrity,' Litzman wrote to police following his termination in 2012 .
'Although not knowing whether I will be punished for maintaining my religious beliefs has been very taxing on me and my family, I will not waver in my firm belief that I can be a successful member of the NYPD and an Orthodox (Hasidic) Jew at the same time,' he continued.
Attorney Nathan Lewin is no stranger to hairy situations and has won many cases for Hasids who've fought to keep their beards in the Army and in the Air Force.
'We hope this is the beginning of the end of the NYPDs refusal to grant full religious accommodations to applicants who may not, for religious reasons, trim their beards,' said Lewin to the Daily News.
Lewin also said that they will ask for Litzman to be reinstated.
'The primary objective was always to get back into the academy and do what I always dreamed of,' said Litzman.
Litzman has been working as a paramedic since being fired but hopes to be in uniform again.