Muslim Officer Loses Claim To Wear Khimar While On Duty

The khimar is a traditional garment worn by Muslim women which covers the head, forehead, sides of the head, neck, shoulders, and chest, and sometimes extends down to the waist. Kimberly Webb, a police officer with the City of Philadelphia, requested permission to wear her khimar while on duty. When the Department denied her request, she filed a lawsuit in federal court.

A federal trial court ruled in favor of the City. The Court observed that the Police Department’s uniform code had been in place for more than 30 years, and described in detail not only the uniform, but also a variety of grooming requirements that must be met by Philadelphia police officers. The City’s uniform rules do not authorize the wearing of religious symbols on the uniform or the wearing of religious apparel while on duty.

The Court cited the testimony of the Police Commissioner that the Department “is a paramilitary organization in which personal preferences must be subordinated to the overall police mission which requires the utmost cooperation among all officers. The uniform promotes that cooperation, fosters esprit de corps, emphasizes the hierarchical nature of the police force, and portrays a sense of authority to the public. The wearing of religious symbols or clothing would undermine these objectives and has the potential for interfering with effective law enforcement and even causing harm to officers in a diverse community such as Philadelphia.”

Webb argued that under federal statutes, the City was obligated to reasonably accommodate her religious beliefs. The Court was unconvinced, reasoning that “prohibiting religious symbols and attire helps to prevent any devisiveness on the basis of religion both within the force itself and when it encounters the diverse population of Philadelphia. The Department’s rules are designed to maintain religious neutrality, but in this case in a paramilitary organization for the good not only of the police officers themselves but also the public in general. Under the circumstances, it would clearly cause the City an undue hardship if it had to allow Webb to wear a khimar.”

Webb v. City of Philadelphia, 2007 WL 1866763 (E.D.Pa. 2007).

This article appears in the August 2007 issue