Las Vegas Sun

June 25, 2017

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Editorial: Policing a faith

Metro Police Detective Steve Riback wants to be a good and a faithful man, but he is finding that department policy makes that impossible for him.

An Orthodox Jew, Riback has run into trouble because he wants to grow a beard and wear a yarmulke, the traditional head covering, to keep in line with his beliefs. Metro Police policy requires that officers be clean-shaven unless they work under cover or have a medical condition that prevents them from doing so.

In 1999 a federal court found a similar policy in Newark, N.J.'s police department discriminatory because it didn't allow an exception for officers following their religion, while allowing beards for those with medical conditions. Metro, however, will not bend and Riback has filed a complaint with the federal Equal Rights Commission.

In a story by Sam Skolnik in Monday's Las Vegas Sun, Metro officials said allowing Riback to wear a beard and a yarmulke would create a "disruptive effect" and cause "undue hardship" to the department. But it is difficult to understand how allowing Riback to follow his religion would be a disruption or hardship.

Last year Riback was told to shave and take off the yarmulke after leaving undercover work for a desk job in the department's quality assurance office, a unit assigned to make sure the department keeps its law enforcement accreditation.

Riback has tried to reach a compromise, offering to wear a baseball cap and keep his beard trimmed, but he has been rebuffed. Riback's attorneys say the department is discriminating against Riback, noting that officers can wear a pin on their uniforms from a Christian organization that shows an open Bible but Riback can't show signs of his faith.

That is discriminatory. Other departments have made accommodations for officers to wear yarmulkes and beards in accordance with their religious beliefs, and Metro should follow suit, drop its challenge and let Riback follow his faith.

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