Written by Don Byrd
When the Pentagon announced new rules for religious accommodation, it was a positive step toward respecting the needs of Americans who wish to serve in the military but face the prospect of violating tenets of their religious faith in the process. The new rules developed a procedure for requesting accommodation and emphasized that requests should only be denied when outweighed by the needs of the mission.
On close inspection, however, many religious liberty advocates argue the policy doesn’t go far enough to protect service members’ rights. In a letter to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, the Baptist Joint Committee – alongside the ACLU, the Becket Fund, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and others – requested the Pentagon revise the policy further in light of those concerns.
Here is a snippet:
As currently drafted, section 4(g) of the revised Instruction would require religiously observant service members and prospective service members to remove their head coverings, cut their hair, or shave their beards–a violation of their religious obligations–while their request to accommodate these same religious practices is pending. This is so, even if they are otherwise qualified to serve and an accommodation is unlikely to undermine safety or other necessary objectives. . . .
Further, under Section 4(j) of the revised Instruction, even if an original accommodation request is approved, religiously observant service members would be required to submit a new request for the same accommodation every time they receive a new assignment, “transfer of duty station, or other significant change in circumstances.” The uncertainty associated with this requirement to repeatedly request an accommodation for the very same religious practices is stifling, and may needlessly limit career opportunities-or, in some cases, end careers.Without further revisions, Instruction 1300.17 will have an unwelcome and unnecessary chilling effect on religious liberty–and will limit opportunities for talented individuals of faith to serve in our nation’s military.