Fifty years ago, high school civics teacher Paul S. Finot returned to school in the fall shortly after a summer camping trip. He returned with a slight problem.
Shortly after the commencement of the school year of 1963-1964, appellant, a male teacher, holding permanent tenure, who had been teaching government to high school seniors in the Pasadena city school system for seven years and who was a challenging and effective classroom teacher, was transferred by respondent board to home teaching because he insisted on wearing, while teaching, a freshly grown beard.
So goes the court’s introduction to Finot v. Pasadena City Board of Education. It was the early sixties, a heyday of cultural hair and other wars between institutions and individuals. Students and teachers across the country had started to battle public schools over facial hair and hair length, with a decided split on the hair length issue in federal courts. Finally, with high school student Chesley Karr’s “emergency” appeal of his case in 1971 to the US Supreme Court, Associate Justice Hugo Black piped in and denied any further stay of the case, confessing:
my inability to understand how anyone would thus classify this hair length case. The only thing about it that borders on the serious to me is the idea that anyone should think the Federal Constitution imposes on the United States courts the burden of supervising the length of hair that public school students should wear.
At John Muir High School in 1963, though, the problem involved the “intensity of the desire on the part of their male students to wear beards.” And it wasn’t the moustache, which a few teachers sported without issue. No, it was the beard, and only the beard, which some other God-fearing folks said represented the beatnik, the rule-breaker, and the apparently dangerous and brutal “Jehovah” figure to children.
At the time, John Muir High School was the recent alma matter of budding jazz musicians Roger Dawson, Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Lewis, and Albert “Sparky” Stinson. It was also the high school of Sirhan Sirhan (’63) and, later, Van Halen’s David Lee Roth (’72). Students at John Muir, the court noted, “were a much more metropolitan, cosmopolitan and heterogeneous lot, with much greater range and extremes in economic, social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.” The court also noted that “a larger percentage of male Negro students than other male students ordinarily want to grow beards and moustaches.” Maybe that was the problem, because the anti-beard rule was only at one high school in Pasadena—not the other less “cosmopolitan and heterogeneous” one.
Paul Finot’s “wearing, while teaching, a freshly grown beard” did not make things better—so he got demoted to teaching from home.
Finot fought his demotion and ended up, with the help of his lawyers, striking a blow on behalf of other freshly bearded public teachers, at least in California. The court held that Finot had a First Amendment right to wear a beard, despite the school district claiming that the “wearing of a beard by a teacher would draw undue attention to said bearded teacher, would cause undue and extraordinary comment thereon, and would be disruptive of the educational program of the school.” To Finot and other beard-wearers, the court surmised, the beard was part of a man’s personality, close to his heart, perhaps even a “symbol of masculinity, of authority and of wisdom.” Or maybe a “symbol of nonconformity and rebellion.” Whatever the reason, Finot was free to wear it and express whatever he wanted with it while a classroom teacher in a California high school in the 1960s:
We do not know why appellant chose to start wearing a beard again at the start of the school year 1963-1964 at John Muir High School in Pasadena, California; but, regardless of his reason for so doing—whether it was in emulation of such bearded great men before him as John Muir himself, Socrates or Abraham Lincoln, to mention but three, or as a gesture of nonconformity to the prevailing custom of this generation of clean-shaven male adults or for other reasons—we think that on balance . . . his constitutional right to do so outweighs the a priori judgment of the principal and superintendent . . . . Prior restraints of expression may not ordinarily be used to limit First Amendment freedoms.
Finot died in San Diego in 2007, but his attorney for the case, Norman G. Rudman, is apparently still alive and listed as of counsel for the law firm Stein & Flugge in Los Angeles.
Happy Movember, everyone.