Leave Our Beards Alone, Say Orthodox Jews

It's all about a beard

By Chris Needham
|  Wednesday, Nov 11, 2009  |  Updated 8:00 PM EDT
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Leave Our Beards Alone, Say Orthodox Jews

modenadude//Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Now he's ready to save lives.

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Can't a dude wear a beard? That all-important question is at the heart of a complaint three Orthodox Jews are bringing against the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Department.

The three men, who don't shave in accordance with their religious beliefs, said the Department is preventing them from riding on calls because they're unable to wear specialized safety masks with their beards. The beards can't be worn with the breathing masks, since it reduces the seal of the masks.

They've filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that this violates their religious rights. They contend that there are alternate masks available, but that the Fire Department isn't accommodating their requests. They also allege that their membership in a different rescue agency that's mainly made up of other Orthodox Jews is one of the reasons they were prevented from going on calls with the Pikesville Fire Department.

We know what some of you are saying: "Just shave the damn beard." Others are likely thinking, "If they want to participate, they have to follow the rules."

That's a valid argument, but the men claim that there's no real reason for them to have to wear the masks. They serve as medics, not firefighters. Since they're not entering burning buildings or putting themselves in overly dangerous situations, there's little need for a breathing apparatus, they say.

Furthermore, they allege that they've been suspended for not wearing masks that the Fire Department doesn't even own. The three men are claiming that the Fire Department only raised the issue because they were planning on purchasing the masks at some far-off date.

For now, the complaint is moving forward.

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