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USA Pentagon to relax rules on personal religious wear — including beards, turbans

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by spnadmin, Jan 23, 2014.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Pentagon to relax rules on personal religious wear — including beards, turbans

    Brett Flashnick


    U.S. Army Spc. Simran Lamba, center, the first enlisted Soldier to be granted a religious accommodation for his Sikh articles of faith since 1984, stands in formation with fellow soldiers before taking the oath of citizenship, prior to his graduation from basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., in 2010.
    By Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube, NBC News

    The Pentagon on Wednesday is expected to announce widespread changes to rules governing religious items and religion-based physical attributes that service members can maintain while in uniform — including beards, some religious tattoos, and turbans.

    NBC News obtained an early draft of the new Department of Defense instruction which states that the military will make every effort to accommodate “individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs” (conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs) of service members.

    It goes on to say that unless doing so could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, health and safety, or any other military requirement, commanders can grant service members special permission to display their religious articles while in uniform.

    Requests for religious accommodation can be denied when the “needs of mission accomplishment outweigh the needs of the service member,” the directive will explain.

    Earlier this month, a major in the U.S. Army who is a Sikh American took his case to staffers on the Hill, explaining how he and other Sikhs should be able to serve in uniform and still maintain their religious beliefs, including wearing turbans and unshorn hair, including beards.

    The new directive will explain that if the articles of faith or physical attributes interfere with the proper function of protective clothing and equipment, the request could be denied. For example, a beard or unshorn hair cannot interfere with gas masks or helmets.

    Jewish service members can request permission to wear a yarmulke while in uniform. Muslim service members can request to wear a beard and carry prayer beads. Even Wiccan service members, those who practice "Magick," can seek accommodation — the directive covers all religions recognized by the U.S. military.

    The policy will also spell out that service members have the right to observe no religion at all.

    According to Defense Department statistics, which are based solely on self-reporting, there are only a handful of Sikh Americans in the military (about 3).

    There are nearly 3,700 Muslims, nearly 6,300 Buddhists, and more than 1,500 Wiccans.

    The immediate commander can approve some of the religious accommodation, but some will have to be kicked up to higher headquarters.

    In some cases wearing something that impacts the uniform (religious apparel), grooming (beards, longer hair), religious tattoos, and some jewelry with religious inscriptions.

    The directive stresses that “the importance of uniformity and adhering to standards, of putting unit before self, is more significant and needs to be carefully evaluated when considering each request for accommodation.”

    It goes on to say that “it is particularly important to consider the effect on unit cohesion.”

    Each individual service member has to re-apply for new permission at each new assignment, transfer of duty stations, and for each deployment.

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  3. spnadmin

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    Here are more details from the Washington Post. But...


    Pentagon clarifies rules on beards, turbans for Muslim and Sikh service members

    By Pamela Constable, Published: January 22 E-mail the writer

    The Defense Department released regulations Wednesday ensuring the rights of religious-minority service members to display their beliefs outwardly — such as wearing a turban, scarf or beard — as long as the practices do not interfere with military discipline, order or readiness.

    According to the Pentagon, requests for such religious accommodation will still be decided on an individual basis but will generally be denied only if the item impairs the safe use of military equipment; poses a health or safety hazard; interferes with wearing a uniform, a helmet or other military gear; or “impairs the accomplishment of the military mission.”

    The “expression of sincerely held beliefs” may not be used as the basis for “adverse personnel action” or discrimination, the new regulations state. They spell out “hair,” “grooming practices,” and “religious body art” such as tattoos or body piercings as eligible areas for religious accommodation.

    Although the new regulations were praised by leaders of national Muslim American groups as expanding the rights of Muslims and other non-Christians in the U.S. military, some Sikh American organizations criticized them for not going far enough. Requests for religious accommodation will still be decided on a case-by-case basis.

    “We welcome the important decision to broaden the religious rights of American military personnel,” said a statement from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in the District. “We hope it will allow all those in uniform to practice their faith while serving the nation.”

    The group’s spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, said the new rules would reduce incidents of Muslim service members being harassed or reprimanded by superiors for wearing beards or head scarves.

    “What we are seeing is not a revolution but an evolution in military policy,” Hooper said. “It sends a message that the military is friendly to minority faiths.”

    But leaders of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, also based in the District, called the rules an expansion of current policies rather than a meaningful overall change in policy.

    “Unfortunately, this continues to make us have to choose between our faith and serving our country,” said Jasjit Singh, the group’s executive director. “This is an expansion of the waiver policy that is decided person by person. It does not open doors and say you can apply as a Sikh American and serve your country fully.”

    Singh called the new rules a “steppingstone” in a long process by which Muslims and Sikhs have been prodding the Pentagon to ease restrictions on wearing or showing their “articles of faith.” Devout Muslim men wear beards as a rule, and practicing Sikh men wear turbans over long hair.

    “It has been a work in progress, but we were hoping they would go further,” Singh said. “What we want is not to be an exception. Sikh Americans want to be able to serve their country as any other Americans are allowed to do.”

    In a news release, the Pentagon said it “places a high value on the rights of members of the military services to observe the tenets of their respective religions” and that the new instructions will “reduce instances and perception of discrimination.”

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