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Air Force Decision on Rabbi Does Not Settle Issue. Colpa Says

August 8, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The decision yesterday of the Air Force to drop its apposition to the wearing of a beard by Rabbi Alan M. Kolinsky of Bangor, Me. while he serves as on Air Force reserve chaplain, does not settle the issue and the battle will be continued, Howard Zuckerman, president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA), said today.

For more than a year, the Air Force rejected a request by Kolinsky that he be permitted to maintain his beard. Kolinsky, a 28-year-old Orthodox rabbi, refused to shave off his beard on religious grounds and was placed on inactive status in January, 1978.

Represented by Nathan Lewin, a COLPA vice president, and David Butler, a COLPA volunteer attorney, Kolinsky sued the Air Force, contending that forcing him to shave violated his constitutional right to freedom of religion. The Air Force, facing a hearing Thursday in federal district court in Washington on the constitutionality issue, notified Kolinsky he could keep his beard.

Lt. Gen. Andrew losue, deputy Air Force chief of staff, wrote Kolinsky that he would be reinstated in the active reserve with the rank of First Lientenant and given credit for points toward retirement benefits, in addition to all the back pay he would have received had he remained on active status.

Zuckerman noted that in a separate affidavit, the Air Force said its grooming requirements would be changed for other reserve chaplains but not for anyone else, including chaplains on duty. Zuckerman said there was no guarantee that the ban on beards would not be reinstated for reserve chaplains. He said for these reasons, Kolinsky will oppose the Air Force’s anticipated effort to have the case dismissed in federal court because of the concessions to Kolinsky, including his reinstatement in the active reserve.

Butler said the limitation permitting beards only to chaplains on reserve was “clearly arbitrary” and that the Air Force action effectively diminished the Air Force contention that requiring its personnel clean-shaven was essential to the effective functioning of its personnel. Butler declared he would continue to press the case in federal court in an effort to assure that any Air Force personnel wishing to wear a beard for religious reasons should be allowed to do so.

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