For years, a civil-rights group called the Sikh Coalition has been pressing the NYPD to allow Sikh police officers to grow beards and wear turbans while in uniform. Turbans are mandatory for Sikh men and considered a sacred raiment, but the NYPD only permits them to wear turbans under specific conditions, which the Sikh Coalition finds unacceptable. But today the City Council passed a bill that puts more pressure on employers—not just the NYPD—to allow their employees the freedom to follow their religious beliefs.
There is currently only one NYPD officer who is a Sikh. There were previously two Sikh cops who sued the city in 2004 over the turban issue and won the right to wear turbans and grow beards while serving as traffic enforcement agents. But they've since left the force, and the NYPD changed the rules after that. Today the lone Sikh officer wears a patka, which is a Sikh head covering usually worn by Sikh children. This officer is willing to fit this under his uniform hat, but the Sikh Coalition insists they shouldn't have to dress like boys to serve as NYPD officers.
Councilmember Mark Weprin, who sponsored the legislation, tells us the new law doesn't mandate the NYPD to do anything, but it raises the bar for any employer who claims an employee's religious observance creates an "undue hardship." Previously, Weprin says an employer could use "any annoyance" to justify not prohibiting a religious practice. The new law, according to Weprin, "sends a message and raises the standard that all employees, public and private, have to meet in order to not fully accommodate a religious practice." He adds:
The Sikh community is very concerned about the NYPD policy prohibiting beards and requiring a hat. I personally feel and hope the police department lets these people serve, so that someone doesn't have to choose between serving the city and their religion. I've always said that if someone wants to put their life on the line to protect my kids, we should accommodate them. I know the NYPD likes to operate like a military operation, but, ironically, the US Army has now allowed Sikh soldiers in! The NYPD should adapt.