CAIR-Sacramento, Church State Council Sue Over Navy Beard Ban, Harassment of Muslim Petty Officer

(SACRAMENTO, CA, 12/23/2014) – The Sacramento Valley office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SV) and the Church State Council today announced the filing of a lawsuit against the United States Navy and the Department of Defense alleging violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).

According to the lawsuit, Jonathon Berts, an African-American Muslim who enlisted in 2002, was consistently given positive reviews, was placed in positions of leadership, and received several medals for his performance.

In early 2011, Berts applied for a religious accommodation to grow a beard in accordance with his sincerely-held religious beliefs. His request and subsequent appeal were denied.

Following this request, his commanding officers reportedly subjected him to intense harassment targeting his Islamic beliefs. His commanding officers allegedly used his Islamic faith as a reason to directly question his loyalty to the United States.

In addition to the accommodation denial and harassment, Berts’ commanding officers stripped him of his leadership positions and re-assigned him to an abandoned “roach infested” building where he was instructed to stand guard over old office equipment.

Ultimately, despite almost a decade of positive reviews and accolades, he was denied reenlistment into active duty in early 2012.

“We appreciate that the Department of Defense has made strides in updating its stance on religious accommodations,” said Brice Hamack, CAIR California’s northern California civil rights coordinator. “But for persons like Mr. Berts, these updates have come too late and corrective action must to be taken to remedy the harm caused.”

“This case clearly shows that it’s not enough to issue regulations prohibiting discrimination – much more diligence is needed to enforce those regulations,” said Alan Reinach, Church State Council’s executive director. “We hope that Mr. Berts’ courage in coming forward will encourage others to stand up against religious discrimination in the military.”

CAIR-SV is an office of CAIR, America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

The Church State Council is the oldest public policy organization in the southwestern United States devoted exclusively to issues of liberty of conscience and religion and the separation of church and state.

Source: CAIR Newsletter (not loaded on their site yet).