WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. Army announced a new policy that permits religious exemptions for uniform regulations, allowing for beards, turbans, hijabs and other signs of religious devotion.
The policy, which can be overturned by the incoming Trump administration, allows brigade commanders to grant permission for religious garb, rather than previous rules that called for individual soldiers to petition the secretary of the Army. The new rule makes it easier for Sikhs, Muslims and members of other religious groups to wear outward signs of devotion. Commanders are permitted to deny an exemption if they feel the soldier does not have a sincerely held religious belief or if it poses a “concrete hazard” to the soldier.
“The Army has reviewed its policies to ensure soldiers can serve in a manner consistent with their faith so that we can recruit from the broadest pool of America’s best,” Army Secretary Eric Fanning said in a statement. “This directive provides the guidance our leaders and soldiers need and enables the Army to better reflect the nation and citizenry it protects.”
Prior to the new regulation, service members who sought a religious exemption had to display “proof of concept” that showed their turbans, head scarves or other garb did not effect the unit.
Attorney Amandeep Sidhu, who has represented Sikh service members, said the new policy will provide a smoother transition for new recruits who otherwise would have to choose between their religion and their country.
“I expect we will have a large influx of young individuals who finally feel like they can do this,” Sidhu said. “Our message to the community will be loud and clear that the door is now open and we should take every opportunity to serve our country.”
In 2016, Army Capt. Simratpal Singh became the first active duty Sikh soldier in 35 years to be approved to wear a turban, an article of his faith, with his uniform.
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