Photo courtesy of David Weprin's office
Assembly Member David I. Weprin and Sen. John C. Liu stand with Dr. Dilip Nath, Founder and President of the New American Voters Association (NAVA), Rokeya Akhter, Executive Director of NAVA, and members of NAVA on the Assembly Staircase

Northeast Queens lawmakers and freedom advocates announced the passage of legislation that is aimed at protecting the religious freedoms of New Yorkers.

Assemblyman David Weprin and state Senator John Liu appeared at the New York State Capitol in Albany to celebrate “The Religious Garb Bill,” which will prevent workplace discrimination against  religious attire and appearances including facial hair. The bill successfully passed the Assembly with a vote of 106 to 1.

“With hate crimes on the rise, we must make it clear that New York will not tolerate any form of discrimination against people of faith,” Weprin said. “This legislation would ensure that no one is ever forced to choose between adhering to their religious beliefs and earning a living.”

Weprin first introduced the bill in 2011 and it has passed in the assembly every year since 2013. This year, Liu confirmed that he will be carrying the bill in the Senate, which is expected to pass this year due to a change in Senate leadership.

“In this day and age, no New Yorker should have to choose between gainful employment and faithful adherence to their religious beliefs,” Liu said. “This bill will at long last rid our state of this type of religious discrimination in the workplace.”

The assemblyman was inspired by the story of Sikh MTA subway operator Kevin Harrington, who was ordered to remove his turban or deface it with an MTA logo. At the Feb. 27 legislative assembly session, Weprin explained that Harrington was an Irish Catholic who converted to Sikhism and was an MTA E train operator.

“He was a hero during 9/11, he actually drove the E train back and forth while the buildings were burning in the World Trade Center and actually rescued hundreds of individuals and brought them to their safety while he was risking his life,” Weprin said.

But following the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks, Weprin said that the MTA got “hundreds and hundreds” of public phone calls complaining about a “terrorist driving the E train.”

One of the bill’s cosponsors, Brooklyn Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, praised Weprin’s efforts in sponsoring a bill protecting New Yorkers’ religious freedom in the workplace.

“Hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes. These are garments worn by religious individuals as a practice of our faith. Nobody should ever be forced to choose between their employment or their religion and today, we can take a step forward on the road toward eradicating discrimination and intolerance,” Eichenstein said.

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