WASHINGTON (JTA) – A rabbi is suing the U.S. Army, saying it refused his services as a chaplain because he would not shave his beard.
Rabbi Menachem Stern filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Washington on Wednesday, his law firm, Lewin and Lewin, said in a news release.
Stern claims the Army rejected his application to serve as a chaplain only because he would not shave his beard as a matter of conscience.
According to the complaint, Stern informed the Army in his application to serve as a chaplain that he would not shave or cut his beard in keeping with his Orthodox Jewish practice. Stern is a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch community, according to The Washington Post.
Stern was approved to serve as a chaplain in June 2009 and appointed as a reserve commissioned officer before his appointment was rescinded three months later "because of the military regulation prohibiting the wearing of beards."
Nathan Lewin, Stern’s lead counsel, noted that the Army has waived restrictions for Muslims and Sikhs, and that he had litigated the same issue in 1976 on behalf of another chaplain, Mitchell Geller — and won.
Lewin also said the ban violated constitutional protections as well as law passed during the Clinton administration that protects some forms of religious expression in the workplace.
Stern’s case has been championed by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)