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Today in Religious Discrimination News...

By Margaret Lyons in News on Jul 16, 2008 8:13PM

Abal Zaidi, 31, was a corrections officer for the Kane County Sheriff's Department. He's also an observant Muslim, which he says requires him to have a beard. In December 2006, Sheriff Pat Perez announced that all officers had to be clean-shaven; Zaidi asked for an exception, and he says two days later, he was asked to resign. Zaidi filed a religious discrimination suit, seeking unspecified damages and an apology.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission, the Civil Rights Act requires employers to "reasonably accommodate employees' sincerely held religious practices unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer." Courts have ruled in favor of employees' rights to wear beards before, under slightly different circumstances. And as a government employee, Zaidi also has First Amendment arguments on his side in addition to employment discrimination law.

2008_7_16.mezuzah.jpgIn other religious discrimination news, the Seventh Circuit Court ruled last week (.pdf) that a lack of accommodation does not constitute discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. In Bloch vs. Shoreline Towers, the plaintiff sued her condo association for banning her display of a mezuzah. The court ruled, 2-1, that the condo association had a right to do so because the building's rule was neutral—banning all objects in a hallway, not just religious ones, or specifically Jewish ones. While federal statues are required to have accommodations, according to the majority ruling, "none of these laws applies to regulations adopted by private condo associations."

The majority opinion goes on to say, "We cannot create an accommodation requirement for religion (race, sex, and so on). Our job is not to make the law the best it can be, but to enforce the law actually enacted."

But the dissenting opinion sees things a bit differently.

According to Judge Wood, the Blochs have "a straightforward claim of intentional discrimination based on their Jewish religion and ethnicity."

Perhaps the worst episode, and one that gives rise to a strong inference of anti-Semitic animus, occurred while the Blochs were mourning the death of Dr. Marvin Bloch, Lynne’s husband and Helen and Nathan’s father. In preparation for Shiva... the Blochs’ attorney wrote a letter to the condo board requesting that their mezuzah be allowed to remain during the Shiva. In the letter, the attorney referred to an agreement between the Blochs and the condo that would have permitted this limited display. Rather than complying with their request, however, the defendants waited until the family literally was attending Dr. Bloch’s funeral and then removed the mezuzot while everyone was away. When the Blochs returned home with the funeral guests, including a rabbi, they were horrified to discover that the mezuzot were once again missing.

Wood also says that the rule isn't neutral at all, and that its reinterpretation did specifically target the Blochs and observant Jews in the building.

Mezuzah photo by ratterrell