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Court allows hospital to fire man for ‘too long’ beard

The Versailles administrative court of appeal has upheld a hospital’s decision to fire a trainee doctor of Egyptian origin for having “a beard that was too long” and “too religious”.

The trainee was fired by the Saint-Denis hospital centre (Seine-Saint-Denis) during his work placement with the surgery department in October 2013, because he had refused to cut his “imposing” beard, reports news source FranceInfo.

The ruling centres on the fact that the hospital judged the beard as long enough to appear as an “ostentatious display of religious belief”, thus contravening the French principle of “laïcité” or secularism: the separation of religion and state.

The man in question had maintained that his religion was “a private matter”, but did not deny or confirm that his physical appearance was a way to “demonstrate his religious activity”.

The court of appeal agreed with the hospital’s actions, and judged the man’s beard to be evidence of his lack of respect for the French principles of laïcité and neutral public service, even though the trainee had otherwise allegedly shown no other evidence of religion or any other act of worship in the workplace.

The hospital’s choice to fire him was therefore “not disproportionate”, the court said.

The man’s lawyer, Nawel Gafsia, called the decision “scandalous”, “mind-boggling”, “discriminatory” and “racist”, and motivated by a suspicion for Islam “by nature”.

Speaking to FranceInfo, she said: “This is a totally subjective interpretation of the so-called ‘religious’ nature of the beard. [This decision] was based on my client’s refusal [to cut his beard] because [his religion] is a private issue. The hospital would have forced him to say, ‘No, this is not religious’.”

Gafsia added: “He is called ‘Mohammed’. If he was called ‘Lionel Dupont’, he could have had an even longer beard and there would have been no problem.”

The Saint-Denis hospital was not available for comment at the time of writing.

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