U.S. ARMY: Beards OK for Muslims, Sikhs, NOT Orthodox Jews

An Orthodox Jewish rabbi from Brooklyn sued the U.S. Army Wednesday for denying him a commission to serve as an Army chaplain because his faith prohibits him from shaving his beard.

Washington PostMenachem M. Stern of the Chabad-Luvabitch community, a Hasidic group in Brooklyn, alleges in federal court in the District that the Army at first approved his application to serve as chaplain in June 2009 and appointed him a reserve commissioned officer (first lieutenant), before rescinding the appointment that September citing the Army’s “no-beard” regulation.

Stern’s attorneys, Nathan and Alyza D. Lewin of the District, say that since then, the Army has granted a waiver to two Sikh captains and an enlisted man, who were permitted to wear a turban and beard in uniform, and an unnamed, bearded Muslim officer who has served as a surgical intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Stern says the Army rules, which only apply on entering service and can be waived for those who cannot shave for medical reasons, are discriminatory and violate the Constitution, especially because waivers have been granted to Sikh and Muslim soldiers. The federal courts in 1976 barred the Air
Force from enforcing its beard ban against an Orthodox Jewish chaplain, his suit added.

A spokesman for the Army did not immediately return a telephone call for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) wrote Army Secretary John McHugh about Stern’s case, the suit said, and were told that current Army grooming standards do not allow beards.

There are good reasons for the Army to accommodate bearded rabbis on its own. For one, if the Army loses in court, it could be saddled with an outcome it may not want, like bearded soldiers all over the Army.

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