Pentagon to relax rules on personal religious wear
By Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube, NBC News
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.
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.
immediate commander can approve some of the religious accommodation,
but some will have to be kicked up to higher headquarters.
cases wearing something that impacts the uniform (religious apparel),
grooming (beards, longer hair), religious tattoos, and some jewelry with
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."
individual service member has to re-apply for new permission at each
new assignment, transfer of duty stations, and for each deployment.