American flag waving in blue skyWritten by Don Byrd

The last few years have seen the U.S. military gradually progress in the direction of religious accommodation for servicemen and women whose faith requirements conflict with grooming and attire regulations. Nearly three years ago, new rules announced by the Pentagon improved accommodation procedures but, as the BJC and other advocates argued, did not go far enough to protect the religious liberty of all who wish to serve. An Army memo this week, however, outlines new policies that address many of the remaining concerns. 

The Hill reports:

The new rules, detailed in an Army memo dated Tuesday and released Wednesday by the Sikh groups, allow for religious accommodations to be approved at the brigade-level, instead of the secretary-level.

The decision to allow brigade-level commanders to grant exemption was made “based on the successful examples of Soldiers currently serving with these accommodations,” according to the memo from Army Secretary Eric Fanning.

The new rules also ensure the accommodation is enduring.

“The accommodation will continue throughout the Soldier’s career and may not be permanently revoked or modified unless authorized by me or my designee,” the memo says.

The new rules apply to all religious accommodation requests, with the memo highlighting the most common requests are for hijabs, beards, turbans, under-turbans/patkas and uncut hair.

Sikh soldiers, in particular, have fought for greater accommodation, filing suit for many of these changes to ensure their right to wear a turban and uncut hair as mandated by their faith. Their courage and determination deserve much of the credit for this latest step forward, but all Americans share in the benefit. A more inclusive Army is stronger for embracing the deep religious diversity of the country.

You can read the Army memo here.