Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Taxi Commission Rule Requiring Black Pants Violates Muslim Driver's Religious Freedom

In Naeem v. Metropolitan Taxicab Commission, (MO Cir. Ct., June 22, 2015), a Missouri trial court reversed a license suspension (which had previously been stayed by the court pending litigation) and fines that the St.Louis area taxicab commission had imposed on Muslim taxicab driver Raja Naeem who violated the commission's regulation requiring drivers to wear white shirts and black pants.  Naeem believes that his religion requires him to wear certain clothing, including white pants. The court held that the commission rule violates Naeem's religious liberty. As reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Taxicab Commission had granted Naeem a compromise. He could wear a loose-fitting kurta instead of a shirt, if it was white and did not go below his thighs. However his pants or shalwar had to be black. The court held:
In the case at bar, Mr. Naeem's right to express his religious beliefs by his mode of dress is directly infringed by the Commission's dress code. The Missouri Constitution clearly prohibits such infringement. Further commentary would be superfluous.
The court also held that the regulation, even though a generally applicable rule, violates Naeem's First Amendment rights:
No interest other than esthetics is served by the uniform code....  Even under the reasoning of Smith... the regulation must fail. Wearing particular clothing as part of the practice of one's religion also implicates the First Amendment guaranty of freedom of speech. When both speech and religion are affected by a regulation, there must be a compelling justification.