The founding fathers probably never considered the issue, but now U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Flannery is confronted by this hairy question: Is a "religiously motivated bear" worn by an Air Force reserve chaplain protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion?

The Air Force told Rabbi Alan Kalinsky of Bangor, Maine, that in order to be a chaplain he had to shave his bear, but the Orthodox Jew has refused, saying it would violate his religious beliefs.

So Kalinsky, put on inactive reserve status for such violations of Air Force regulations as not wearing his uniform, wearing a beard and failing to send officials a photograph of himself, has sued the Air Force to become an active reserve again.

Kalinsky finds religious motivation in Leviticus 19:27, which admonishes, "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corner of thy bear."

David Butler, one of Kalinsky's lawyers, told Flanney yesterday that the rabbi's contention that he should wear a bear for religious reasons is "not simply a belief the plaintiff holds, but a practice that dated back centuries."

The lawyer said the beard presented "no substantial threat to the military order" and that "if he is forced to compromise. . . his (religious) teaching will be put in jeopardy."

Butler said that the First Amendment guaranteed religious freedom and that Kalinsky should be allowed to practice his beliefs.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis A. Dutterer argued that Kalinsky's beard presents no such weighty constitutional issue, and that Kalinsky's placement on the inactive reserve was largely motivated by refusal to send in the photograph of himself to Air Force officials.

Another of Kalinsky's attorneys, Nathan Lewin, said after the hearing. "There was no way he could submit a photo because he had a beard."

Flannery took the case under advisement, but asked Dutterer for affidavits from the Navy and Army on any problems have been caused by their face-fuzz regulations.

As it turns out, the Army, Air Force and Navy all have different rules. In the Army, practicing Sikhs and soldiers who need them for medical reasons can wear beards, the Air Force says beard are OK for medical reasons, and the Navy permits neatly trimmed beards.