- Deseret News - Saturday, October 11, 2014

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments for a case that involves a Muslim prison inmate who wants to grow his beard longer than a half inch for religious reasons. But some members of the Supreme Court aren’t so sure that this case will be the best at defining the line between church and state.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. told the New York Times in a recent interview that a discussion on “full beards or turbans,” instead of ones that are just a half-inch, would provide a more compelling case for establishing religious liberty rights. This is because, as Justice Antonin also told The New York Times, short beards do not provide the same threat to prison security as longer beards do.

However, Gregory Holt, the Muslim inmate, still feels compelled to continue with his case. So when it comes to beards, does size matter? To Holt, it doesn’t. The principle behind the beard, which can be used to help decide future court cases, does.

To others, the answer isn’t so clear cut, especially in matters of family and work. Inside and outside of religion, the length of a man’s beard appears to have an important impact on his success and well-being.

According to a study from Behavioral Ecology, beards make men appear more aggressive and manly, and aggression, which some have argued, can help men advance more in their careers. However, many employers report that they may actually prefer well-groomed employees over their grizzly counterparts.

This may lead to what some are calling a “facial hair ceiling” in the workplace, according to The Huffington Post, where men can advance, but only so far with facial hair.

“It’s encouraging to know that nine out of 10 Americans surveyed believe mustaches are appropriate for the workplace,” Adam Paul Causgrove, the American Mustache Institute CEO, told HuffPost. “But it would appear there is a definitive ‘facial hair ceiling,’ if you will, presenting mustached Americans with fewer opportunities for advancement and leadership than their clean-shaven counterparts.”

This could also cause trouble for American men looking to start a family. According to Pew Research Center, 79 percent of women prefer men with a stable job and work life, which facial hair may prevent or delay them from achieving.

Holt, however, may not find these reasons to shave, or at least groom more frequently, so compelling. To him, growing a beard, which was instructed by the prophet Mohammad in the hadith, a collection of teachings and sayings, is all about an individual honoring his commitment to God, regardless of the length.

According to Kimberly Winston of Religion News Service (RNS), Muslim men prefer beards as a sign of true and natural masculinity, which helps to distinguish them and their roles from that of a woman’s.

“It is an expression of manliness and as such a sign, which distinguishes men from women,” said Shehzad Saleem, a Muslim scholar, to RNS.

This has also been true throughout history. Before men and women started wearing different clothing, men used beards to distinguish themselves from women, wrote Marion Dowd, professor of the Institute of Technology, Sligo, in his research paper “Beards: an archaeological and historical overview.”

This was true through much of the 19th century as well, when men were looking to counter the rise of feminism by appearing more aggressive and masculine, wrote historian Sarah Gold McBride in a research paper.

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