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Taxi driver Raja Naeem has his day in court

Muslim taxicab driver Raja Naeem leaves the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis on June 9, 2014, after final arguments were heard before Judge Robert Dierker Jr. concerning Naeem's attire while driving a cab. Naeem was ticketed and arrested because he refused to wear the mandated clothing while driving his cab. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS • A St. Louis judge has ruled in favor of a Pakistani Muslim taxi driver’s right to wear religious attire while working.

Raja Naeem of St. Louis has been battling the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission, which licenses drivers in the St. Louis region, for years regarding his clothing.

The commission requires drivers to wear black pants and a white, button-down shirt. After a court ruling in 2013, the commission offered what it said was a compromise: a kurta, the loose-fitting clothing worn on the torso, but it must be white and could not go below his thighs. His pants, or shalwar, should be black. He was allowed to wear the kufi, a wrapped garment for his head.

The commission has said the dress code is for safety reasons, ensuring the public can easily identify licensed drivers.

Naeem believed the parameters violated his freedom of religious expression, and went back to the court last year to argue that.

On Monday, Judge Robert Dierker released the order, which read in part: “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.”

Naeem’s attorney, Drew Baebler, said in a statement: “This is a victory for the First Amendment right to express one’s religion freely. We are all very grateful to the judge for ruling in our favor and hope that this brings relief to not only Mr. Naeem but others in a similar position.”

Naeem had been issued more than $800 in citations and had his license revoked, although Dierker stayed that suspension while he considered the case.

Faizan Syed, executive director of the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement: “This decision demonstrates the positive impact one person can have when he or she is brave enough to stand up for constitutionally-guaranteed rights.”

A spokesman for the taxicab commission said officials did not have a comment Tuesday night and would read over the decision on Wednesday.