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Opinion Why Should Men In Uniform Be Forced To Shave?


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
A rabbi is suing the US Army for refusing to let him serve unless he removes his beard. The US military, as well as many police forces across America, require recruits to be clean shaven. But what is wrong with sporting a beard in the line of duty?

Chin straps, goatees, stubble, soul patches, mutton chops or just the old-fashioned full version.

There are many ways to grow a beard, but if you're serving in the US military, getting creative with your chin furniture is not an option.

The different branches of the US insist that recruits are clean shaven. Those later in their career are permitted to go as far as growing a moustache. But even that facial freedom comes with caveats.

"Moustaches are allowed, but hair may not extend beyond the edges of the lips, nor may it extend below the top of the upper lip," says a US Army spokesman.

Rabbi Stern believes he should be allowed to serve with his beard
"Sideburns may not grow below a level even with the bottom of the ear canal."

As for beards, well, they're banned.

Serving members of the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps may qualify for a "shaving waiver" if they suffer from medical conditions that make shaving difficult or painful, but still have to keep any facial hair short.

The beard ban has meant some Muslims, Sikhs and Hasidic Jews have been unable to sign up for duty.

"I was told my application to join the army would only be accepted if I shaved off my beard," says Menachem Stern, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, from the Chabad Lubavitch Community, who applied to join the army as a chaplain in 2008.

The 29-year-old is suing the US Army for refusing him the right to keep his beard, on the grounds of his religious beliefs.

"This is a tenet of our faith - it's not optional not to have one in our community.

"Could you imagine any of the great sages - whether Abraham, Isaac or Jacob - clean shaven?" he says.

Rabbi Stern's case has been taken up by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who has written to the army secretary asking for the beard policy to be modified for chaplains.

In recent years, shaving waivers have been issued for some applicants, and not for others. According to Mr Stern's lawyer, Nathan Lewin, three Sikhs have been given permission to keep their beards since 2009.

Continue reading the main story
LAPD Facial hair regulations

Employees shall be clean shaven when reporting for duty. Beards shall be permitted only when required by the nature of the assignment or for a bona fide medical condition
The employee's beard shall be neatly trimmed and not longer than one-quarter inch in length
Male employees may wear a short and neatly trimmed moustache of natural colour
Moustaches shall not extend below the vermillion of the upper lip or below the corners of the mouth and may not extend to the side more than one‑half inch beyond the corners of the mouth
Back in 1976 Mr Lewin fought a case on behalf of a bearded rabbi who wanted to serve in the US Air Force, and won. He's disappointed to be having the same battle all over again.

"I would like to be able to say that government agencies are becoming more accepting of various aspects of appearance but frankly Rabbi Stern's experience with the US Army leads me to conclude that there are still very strong restrictions that the people who have control over these institutions are imposing."

'Group identity'
But why is there a ban in the first place?

A US Army spokesman said it was to do with "long-standing traditions of uniformity, hygiene, and good order and discipline", adding that it was in keeping with strict dress codes which required a sense of professionalism and group identity.

Beards are also banned in the US military for practical reasons, explains Penny Jolly, a professor of art and art history, who has studied social trends in appearance.

"They were eliminated in the US military in WWI due to the need to wear gas masks. Razors were issued in GI kits, so men could shave themselves on the battlefield," she says.

The gas mask argument is also often made by police forces - though across the US a patchwork of different rules and regulations exists.

'Excessively bushy'
At the end of last year, Durango County police force in Colorado relaxed its rule to allow officers to sport goatee beards (which apparently do not affect the seal between the gas mask and the face).

In the opposite direction of growth, New York's police department tightened its follicular restrictions in 2008, banning goatees, chin straps and "designer beards".

Moustaches are generally permitted in the police, but subject to some strict rules.

The Chicago police department reportedly outlaws moustaches that are "excessively bushy, rolled or curled".

Los Angeles Police Department, one of the largest police forces in the country, says they must be neat and tidy and of a natural colour.

"Moustaches shall not extend below the vermillion of the upper lip or below the corners of the mouth and may not extend to the side more than one half inch beyond the corners of the mouth," reads the LAPD moustache manifesto.

Handlebar moustaches
The British armed forces also have a troubled relationship with facial hair.

Some operatives in Afghanistan sport beards to help them win the trust of the local population
In the Army and RAF, beards are generally allowed only on medical or religious grounds, though some infantry regiments have a rank of "pioneer sergeant" - responsible for carpentry and joinery - which comes with the right to grow a beard.

The British Navy also has its own beard tradition - allowing a "full set" (beard plus moustache) on the permission of the commanding officer. The Navy does not accept the argument that a beard prevents a gas mask working effectively.

The RAF, for its part, has a fondness for handlebar moustaches - far bushier than anything allowed in the US forces. One British airman with floral facial hair got into hot water when temporarily attached to the USAF.

But while joining the army can sometimes be difficult for Muslims, Sikhs and Jews who feel obliged by their faith to grow a full beard, in a country like Afghanistan, the boot is on the other foot. Here it's the US and British servicemen who have a challenge fitting in.

"Our men in the field are growing their beards because the Afghan soldiers think it is respectful," said a Ministry of Defence spokesman in 2006. "For men working very closely alongside the Afghans for long periods, wearing beards has proved to be an excellent way of helping to win trust and breed understanding."

US special operations units in Afghanistan have also long worn beards to gain the respect of tribal elders. Combined with Oakley wrap-around sunglasses, though, the look is sometimes more Hell's Angel than Helmand.




Mar 2, 2011
Tacoma WA
Re: Should Men in Uniform Be Forced to Shave?

My argument would have been the gas mask one. However, the US Navy actually allowed beards until the late 70's, if I am not mistaken. A close friend of the family sported one until that time.

It is my opinion that one should be allowed to wear facial hair if it means following their faith. Quite frankly, so long as it is kept neat, there should be no argument. Tawnie and I are divided on this point. I strongly believe that if your faith dictates the growth of facial hair, that needs to be respected. She believes that to join an organization that is military in nature, one must conform.

However, on the other side of the coin, why not compromise? Keeping it neat and not interfering with the uniform or performance of duty. Unfortunately, there is always going to be certain individuals that whine about "well, they can have one, so why can't I?" That's always going to happen. Simply put, if you are part of a religious organization or faith, you should be able to be true to that faith.



Jun 13, 2010
Re: Should Men in Uniform Be Forced to Shave?

My question is why? Why in the 21st century this is questioned? When world turn in a small like village. Why people becoming narrow minded or what ( I can say lack of knowledge)?


ੴ / Ik▫oaʼnkār
Dec 21, 2010
Re: Should Men in Uniform Be Forced to Shave?

When someone signs up to die for the cause and the country, there is a question of unshorn Hair! Little difficult to justify.

Indian Army:

Active Military Personnel: 1,325,000 [2008]
Active Military Reserve: 1,155,000 [2008]
Active Paramilitary Units: 1,293,300 [2008]

Hair: Allows Sikhs unshorn Hair including facial hair.

Canadian Armed Foces:

The Canada First Defence Strategy provides the resources needed to expand the Forces to 70,000 Regular Force and 30,000 Reserve Force personnel. This will give the Canadian Forces a total strength of 100,000 to achieve the Government's defence objectives in Canada, on the continent and internationally, as well as positioning them for future growth.

Hair: Allows Sikhs unshorn Hair including facial hair.

Israel Army:

Active Military Personnel: 187,000 [2008]
Active Military Reserve: 408,000 [2008]
Active Paramilitary Units: 8,050 [2008]

Hair: Allows unshorn facial Hair.


1. IDF (Israel Defense Forces) have developed facial masks for gas attacks, etc., that provide necessary sealing protection.

2. During the British ruled Sikhs were punished for violating their religious norms as it will affect fighting character. I don't know about Alcohol or meat but neither is a Kurehat (Hard violation of Sikh Rehat Maryada) or violation requiring re-baptization while hair indiscretions require you to so.
Sat Sri Akal.

Harkiran Kaur


Jul 21, 2012
Re: Should Men in Uniform Be Forced to Shave?

The biggest issue (sorry to resurrect an old thread but it was linked on the girls shaving thread and I thought it's related) anyway the biggest issue with beards in the military is maintaining a seal in a face mask... gas mask... fire fighting mask etc. Its not a matter of looks or conforming at all. It's safety. In the Navy, beards have always been allowed anyway but as long as they dont interfere with maintaining a seal with a mask. I think in this case, it comes down to choice and maybe it isnt the best career choice for a full bearded Sikh man, and not because of discrimination but having been through gas hut training and fire fighting training myself, I know first hand how bad it is if you can not maintain a seal. I have on several occassions not had my mask tight enough and breathed in CS gas (tear gas) in training.. If I had of been in a real situation with nerve agents etc instead of tear gas I would have been dead instead of just in discomfort with burning eyes and nose. In my case it was lack of experience and not having the mask straps tightened enough, but some men I know in the Navy were forced to shave (they weren't Sikh) because they could not get a seal at all with their beard.

Maybe the military could look into making special masks for people with full beards that come further down the neck or something, in order to get a full seal. But then, those people would have to carry the mask everywhere with them on board as the fire fighting stations etc only have one size mask... medium and are communal... as in everyone has to make them fit because its not possible to issue everyone their own fire fighting kit on a small boat where space is limited. Gas masks ARE actually issued to each individual though... but A submarine is even worse because in addition to fire fighting masks, there are emergency breathing masks because any atmospheric contaminant can be deadly... these masks are all around the submarine for immediate use to plug into a rail which provides emergency air from bottles stored outside the pressure hull. Again, one size fits all... medium. One of our subs had a fire on board in 2005 and one Officer died from smoke inhalation because he didnt get a mask on in time... a beard causing a broken seal would have resulted in the same outcome because the masks are on demand... if you are getting air from around the mask from a broken seal, then the regulator wont open to allow the good air into the mask.

So I am torn... I think Sikhs should be allowed to keep the beard if working on base, or even deployed in army... maybe they can use a larger gas mask to fit around the beard.... I don't know... But I am torn on the issue of fire fighting etc at sea because that Sikh would be taking a huge risk with their own life if they cant get a seal on their mask. And I would never want to see someone die needlessly...

Maybe there are other options too like carrying a packet of petroleum jelly and using that as a sealant around the mask edges... we use that trick sometimes with oxygen masks from the bag valve mask to ventilate someone that is hard to get a seal on.. But it would need to be applied very quickly in an emergency and would no doubt be difficult to remove from the beard afterward... but at least it might help save someone's life...


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Re: Should Men in Uniform Be Forced to Shave?

The gas mask argument against kesdhari Sikhs in the US military went south fairly quickly and is no longer on the short list for official bans on kesh.

Specialist Simran Singh Lamba completed basic training in full kesh demonstrating as reported in the "Army Times,"
During training, he wore a camouflage turban under his Kevlar helmet. He used petroleum jelly to get a tight grip between his beard and gas mask, and was able to keep his hair clean under all conditions, meeting all the military's concerns about training and appearance.
So the US military news site is there to prove it. First image is of Simran Singh. http://www.armytimes.com/article/20101110/NEWS/11100301/Army-gets-1st-Sikh-enlisted-30-years

Tejdeep Singh Rattan also completed training with a tight seal and a joura showing under his camoflage turban. Second pic courtesy of http://www.army.mil/article/36339/

This issue is fading because it has always been bogus. It has no traction and there is no need to analyze it any further. Obviously Sikhs in the Indian military have managed their gas masks quite well; so have Sikhs in the British army. Until very recently beards were permitted in the US Navy - you did not have to be a Sikh. The ban had naught to do with safety, neatness or personal hygiene. The ban was issued during the Reagan Administration (which makes the ban self-explanatory). A real American doesn't have a beard. When playing the frontier hero, he has a gun, a horse, and a 10 gallon hat, but never a beard. :winkingkaur:

It just isn't done!
"Old soldiers never die," they say. "They just fade away."The same could be said for the beard-ban. It will always be there grumbling in the background; but military beard-o-phobia itself will not be up front and center much longer.


Harkiran Kaur


Jul 21, 2012
Re: Should Men in Uniform Be Forced to Shave?

And I KNEW the petroleum jelly idea would probably work, as I said we use it on difficult patients to maintain a seal with a bag valve mask... I wouldn't want to have to try and get the jelly out of a beard afterward, but small price to pay to be safe and get a seal!

Slide show How to Remove Petroleum Jelly from Hair Using Olive Oil and Detergent



1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Re: Should Men in Uniform Be Forced to Shave?

I cannot remember reading any story where large numbers of bearded Sikhs in India or UK regiments were found gasping for life on the battlefield because their gas masks did not fit properly.

Maybe someone can locate a story about that. Or maybe India and UK are high rollers. I don't know.

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