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Atlantic City First Responder Appeals After City Refused Religious Beard Accommodation

April 3, 2024

Atlantic City First Responder Appeals After City Refused Religious Beard Accommodation

Attorneys argue last year’s Supreme Court decision in Groff protects employees from religious discrimination in workplace.

Atlantic City, NJ—First Liberty Institute and the Harvard Law School Religious Freedom Clinic asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to reverse a lower court decision that allowed the Atlantic City (NJ) Fire Department to deny a religious accommodation to first responder Alex Smith. Smith sought an accommodation to wear a beard while on duty.

You can read the brief here.

“No one should have to choose between their livelihood and practicing their faith, but that’s the choice that Atlantic City has forced upon Alex,” said Kayla Toney, Associate Counsel at First Liberty.

“Alex has dedicated his life to serving his community for 20 years, and he wants to help his colleagues be as safe as possible,” said Joshua McDaniel, Assistant Clinical Professor and Faculty Director at the Harvard Religious Freedom Clinic. “The city should follow the law and respect his religious convictions.”

Alexander Smith, an African-American devout Christian and an ordained minister, works as an Air Mask Technician for the Atlantic City Fire Department. Alex also founded the fire department’s chaplain program, serves as a volunteer chaplain, and pastors a vibrant local church in Atlantic City with an outreach ministry serving neighbors with food and housing insecurity. Alex believes that his faith and conscience require him to wear a beard, in accordance with Scripture and to set a godly example for his congregation. Alex’s role with the fire department is to fit masks and refill air tanks for firefighters engaged in fire suppression. Because he is not required to fight fires or wear an air mask, Alex’s beard would have no impact on his own or others’ safety. Alex submitted a formal request for a religious beard accommodation. But the City refused to grant his religious accommodation request.

On appeal, Alex seeks relief under Title VII, the Free Exercise Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. Today’s brief argues, “This appeal is an ideal opportunity for this Court to provide much-needed guidance after the Supreme Court’s decision last term in Groff. Mr. Smith deserves his day in court to ask the jury to hold ACFD accountable for failing to accommodate his sincere religious exercise. On the present record, ACFD hasn’t shown that allowing an administrative employee to grow a beard would result in substantial increased costs.”


About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
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