I’ll start with full disclosure. I have a beard, so I have a vested interest here. Were I in any way in charge of BYU’s beard policy, I would be forced to remove myself from the process due to a conflict of interest, much like when Jed Bartlet invokes the 25th Amendment after Zoey gets kidnapped.
With that out of the way, I will attempt to be as objective as possible.
BYU’s beard ban has been the subject of controversy lately, what with hipsters on scooters marauding around campus, demanding their right to grow the hair that has blessed their faces since puberty. One is welcome to an argument one way or the other on the overall merits of BYU’s beard ban. But discussing it as a manner of aesthetic preference isn’t nearly as important as viewing it from the perspective of religious freedom.
It appears BYU is finally set to amend a small portion of the beard ban, allowing those who would prefer beards for religious reasons to obtain the same exemption card that was previously only available to those growing beards for medical or artistic reasons. (The latter meaning he’s in a play or church movie or something.)
There are many Muslim students at BYU, especially because of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ ongoing outreach and transfer programs with the Palestinian community. One of them, Hammad Javed, was dismayed when he was forced to shave his beard after arriving in Provo eighteen months ago:
“I committed to have a beard. It was a tradition of the prophet. He had a beard.”
In the Islamic tradition, God commanded Abraham to keep his beard, but shorten his mustache, clip his nails, and shave pretty much everything else. Beards are considered by many an important part of religious expression. Islam is not the only religion in play here, of course, but given the higher percentage of Muslim students on campus, it serves as the obvious example.
The relationship of religion to the beard ban is one of those areas where religious freedom slams up against itself. The Church typically invokes the religious freedom clause to allow it to function in the way it sees fit for its people (i.e. banning beards and maintaining a clean look across campus – “no one is forcing you to attend BYU”). But on the flip side of that, honoring religious freedom also demands that we encourage others to engage in their religious practices as they see fit, so it could appear dubious to ban something deemed more than just culturally important to a group of adherents. It’s sort of a catch twenty-two.
BYU spokeshuman Carri Jenkins says, “Although we have given exceptions in the past, BYU has now formally identified three areas where exceptions may be considered.” She insists the change is not a reaction to recent national attention – most of it negative – on the beard ban, including highlighting the plight of Muslims at BYU. Granted, I would expect any spokesperson to say exactly what Ms. Jenkins has said. Still, she does openly admit that the shift in policy is directly related to examining requests from the students.
Also, please note that this only applies to BYU Provo, not the other schools.
So, my dear would-be bearded brethren, as I speak to you many years removed from my Honor Code experience, my face replete with well-groomed ruffage, I must tell you that you still cannot grow the beard you seek. You could, of course, convert to Islam, but then you’ll get kicked out of BYU.