Jewish and Muslim sailors sue to wear beards in navy



In this photo provided by the US Navy, Sailors aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Stout handle the moorings as the ship returns to home port at Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk, Va. In this photo of Oct 12, 2020 (SPC Jason Pastrick / US Navy via AP)

A Jewish sailor and three Muslim sailors sued the US Navy, claiming its beard policy violates their religious freedom, Religion News Service reported.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Edmund Di Liscia, a Jewish soldier aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, had previously received a religious exemption to avoid shaving in 2018, and received a temporary restraining order in April. He and three Muslim sailors are seeking religious accommodations to wear beards while on duty, rather than depending on temporary allowances.

Di Liscia said other sailors threatened to hold him down and forcibly shave his beard.

“My desire is to continue serving my country,” Di Liscia wrote, according to Algemeiner. “I don’t want to be in a position where I have to choose unnecessarily between serving my country and staying true to my religious beliefs. I also want to allow other Orthodox Jews to enlist in our army and serve their country without having to give up their religious commitments.

Their lawsuit is being brought by the Beckett Religious Freedom Fund, arguing that the Navy is violating the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act. Since 2014, the Pentagon has allowed military personnel to request religious accommodations to uniforms under the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act. The military and air force previously allowed Jewish, Muslim and Sikh servicemen to grow beards based on their religious beliefs.

The Navy offered religious exemptions, but they were short-term and in danger of being revoked. The Navy generally does not allow beards due to concerns about facial hair interfering with the seal on a gas mask. Earlier this year, First Lt. Sukhbir Singh Toor was the first Sikh member of the Marine Corps to receive religious accommodations regarding his beard and turban unless deployed to a combat zone, according to Religion News Service.

Muslim sailors involved in the trial said they could not get religious exemptions, but other sailors were granted medical exemptions. Lawyer for Petty Officer 2nd Class Mohammed Shoyeb said he was denied a religious exemption, but three other sailors received medical exemptions.

Service members may be granted medical exemptions to avoid razor burn, a condition that causes painful inflammation and fear and can be avoided by not shaving and growing a beard. However, those who are granted medical exemptions must shave every now and then to prove that they still have the disease.

“The past few years have seen tremendous progress in efforts to ensure that members of minorities and vulnerable or historically excluded groups are welcome into public service,” said Ahmad Maaty, president of Muslim Americans in Public Service. “Religious minorities do not need to be placed in a position of choice between their faith and public service.”


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Updated Tuesday, October 5, 2021 at 1:24 p.m.