Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Sailors sue U.S. Navy for religious exemption to have beards 

Four sailors have filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the U.S. Navy from forcing them to shave in violation of their religious beliefs.

Three of the sailors, a Hasidic Jew and two Muslims, have either been denied a faith-based accommodation to have a neatly maintained beard or told that previous permission to have one is going to be rescinded, the suit says.

The other sailor, who is Muslim, suffers from pseudofolliculitis barbae, or "razor bumps," and has had a beard for medical reasons but is required to shave every 30 days to prove he still gets painful swelling on his face each time he does, according to the suit.

The suit alleges violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the constitutional rights of free speech, due process, the guarantee of equal protection and the free exercise of religion. The RFRA bars the government from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion except in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and only if an action is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

The sailors reject the Navy's contention that beards could interfere with the performance of their duties, especially when they might have to wear a sealed gas mask or similar equipment, and say there is no compelling reason to require them to shave.

"The fact that the U.S. Army and Air Force both allow religious beards further belies any supposedly compelling reason defendants may assert for suppressing plaintiffs' religious exercise," the suit says. "And the allowance for religious beards by militaries around the world, including in the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and India, as well as by police and fire departments throughout the U.S., further undermines defendants' claims."


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