Four sailors have filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the US Navy forcing them to shave in violation of their religious beliefs, UPI is reporting.
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faith-based accommodation to have a neatly maintained beard or told that previous permission to have one is going to be rescinded, the lawsuit says.
The fourth sailor, who is Muslim, suffers from “razor bumps”, and has a beard for medical reasons but the navy requires him to shave every 30 days to prove he still gets painful swellings on his face when he does.
The lawsuit 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 sailors reject the navy’s contention that beards can interfere with the performance of their duties, especially when they might have to wear a sealed gas mask or similar equipment.
The sailors say that the US Army and Air Force both allow religious beards, as do militaries around the world, including the UK, Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, and India. They claim there is no valid reason for the navy to deny their rights to a beard.
The sailors also maintain that the navy has a “robust tradition of bearded sailors” and only recently started insisting there can be no religious beards for sailors on sea duty. Moustaches are allowed under the rules.
The three Muslim plaintiffs are devout adherents of Islam, they say, and obliged by their faith to maintain a substantial beard.
The navy has agreed not to enforce shave orders against the four sailors for now.
Attorney Eric Baxter, senior counsel of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who represents the sailors, said razor bumps overwhelmingly impact African American men.
“The navy now is actually pressuring our clients and others to undergo laser hair removal or other more extreme measures to kill their beards, which is a double affront to their religion,” he said.