(RNS) — Shave or be Shaved. Aboard the usTheodore Roosevelt, sailor Edmund Di Liscia confronted a stark selection. In accordance with his attorneys, he was informed to both shave his beard voluntarily or be held down by his bunk mate and forcibly shaved. For Di Liscia, a working towards Hasidic Jew who had not shaved for greater than two years, it was a selection between his loyalty to the U.S. Navy and his non secular religion.
Di Liscia is one in every of a number of sailors and marines who’re in search of non secular lodging to put on beards whereas in uniform.
Earlier this 12 months, Di Liscia, together with three Muslim sailors, joined in a lawsuit introduced by the Beckett Fund for Spiritual Liberty, alleging the Navy’s beard coverage quantities to a violation of the Spiritual Freedom Restoration Act. The Pentagon has allowed navy personnel to request non secular lodging to uniforms below the Spiritual Freedom Restoration Act since 2014. The Military and Air Pressure have allowed beards as a non secular lodging for Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Norse heathen service members who’ve requested them.
Di Liscia had been granted a “no-shave” chit in 2018 as a morale measure. Whereas the Navy has granted non secular exemptions prior to now, they haven’t at all times held. Leandros Katsareas, a Petty Officer third Class, was granted an exemption final 12 months to put on a four-inch beard however was knowledgeable this 12 months the exemption could possibly be revoked. Dominque Braggs, one other Muslim sailor of the identical rank, was given a well being exemption resulting from pseudofolliculitis barbae, also called razor burn. Braggs should nonetheless shave usually and is asking for a non secular exemption. Petty Officer 2nd Class Mohammed Shoyeb beforehand requested and was denied a non secular exemption, a state of affairs his lawyer describes as significantly irritating on condition that three sailors on his vessel had been granted medical exemptions from shaving resulting from razor burn.
Beards had been widespread within the U.S. navy till World Struggle I when issues in regards to the seal of interval fuel masks had been a difficulty. Some 100,000 troopers died resulting from chemical fuel throughout that battle. The Navy allowed beards starting in 1970, solely to reverse the coverage within the mid-Eighties — a directive that was quickly adopted by the Coast Guard. Militaries around the globe have various insurance policies concerning beards. Notably the navies of the UK and Australia permit sailors to put on beards.
“Right now the Navy makes use of positive-pressure fuel masks. That is vital as a result of, in an emergency, when you seize a fuel masks, there isn’t a assure it’ll match. So in real-life conditions, there may be going to be lower than an ideal seal,” mentioned Eric Baxter, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Spiritual Liberty.
The US Navy eliminated a everlasting exemption in 2019 from shaving for individuals who endure from razor burn. Those that declare a medical exemption for razor bumps should now shave periodically to show they nonetheless endure from the situation, which may in some situations result in everlasting scars. The coverage had a disproportionate impression on African American service members. Research have proven that as a lot as 60% of African American males endure from pseudofolliculitis barbae.
An unlikely enhance for the change within the Navy’s coverage got here from the Marine Corps. Earlier this 12 months First Lieutenant Sukhbir Singh Toor, a working towards Sikh, acquired approval for restricted non secular lodging from the Marine Corps for his religion. He’s believed to be the primary turbaned Sikh to obtain such an lodging, although his attorneys have criticized the strict requirements put in place by the Marine Corps.
“He’s compelled to take away his turban and beard each time assigned to a ceremonial unit, and to shave his beard when deployed and receiving Hostile Fireplace Pay or Imminent Hazard Pay. Accordingly, we are actually contemplating our ultimate choices earlier than litigation,” mentioned Graham West, the communications director of the Sikh Coalition.
The Beckett Fund says a call isn’t seemingly till subsequent 12 months for the 4 sailors in search of non secular lodging. Within the interim, the Beckett Fund says the Navy has agreed to permit all 4 males non secular lodging to put on beards whereas the case is pending.
“That call would appear to undercut the Navy’s argument that permitting these sailors to put on beards poses some kind of danger,” mentioned Baxter.
Have been the Navy and Marines to permit beards for lively service personnel when in uniforms, it might have a wider impression on the problem. Different sides of the federal authorities and first-responder organizations could possibly be impacted.
“The previous few years have seen appreciable progress in efforts to make sure members of minorities and weak or traditionally excluded teams are welcome in public service,” mentioned Ahmad Maaty, the Chair of Muslim People in Public Service.
“Spiritual minorities needn’t be positioned able of selecting between their religion and public service. Moreover, the arbitrary and capricious types of creating conformance, even to how one manages their hair, is outdated and doesn’t give attention to what actually issues in public service: efficiency,” he mentioned.