Several US organisations ban beards, including the military and police forces.

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.
“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.