The United States Army has issued a new regulation that allows soldiers to wear turbans and hijabs, and maintain beards, thereby making it more accommodating of minority cultures and religions. The US Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning, issued the regulation which allows people from minority religions to be approved at the brigade-level. Earlier, the approval was at the secretary-level.
"This is a major progress, not just for the Sikh-American community, but for our nation's military. Sikh-Americans love this country and want a fair chance to serve in our country on equal footing. Today's announcement will help do just that. We are a stronger nation, with a stronger military because of our respect for religious and personal freedom," Congressman Joe Crowley was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.
Sikh-Americans and US lawmakers, who have been campaigning for such laws for several years, have welcomed the move. Previously, Sikh-Americans and others had to be granted permission to serve in the army while maintaining their faith or religion. However, such permissions were not permanent or guaranteed and were renewed after every assignment. Till the accommodation request was not approved, servicemen had to remove their articles of faith thereby putting before them a difficult choice between their faith and job.
The Sikh-American Coalition's Legal Director, Harsimran Kaur, while welcoming the move, also said that it is still short of what they want: "While we still seek a permanent policy change that enables all religious minorities to freely serve without exception, we are pleased with the progress that this new policy represents for religious tolerance and diversity by our nation's largest employer."
The new regulation says that Brigade commanders must grant religious accommodations for unshorn beards, unshorn hair, turbans and Muslim hijabs unless the concerned individual's religious belief is not sincere or the army identifies a concrete hazard.
The new regulation states that religious accommodations must be granted across all duty positions, except in certain limited circumstances. The US Army will also carry out additional testing for the use of protective equipment by bearded soldiers.
"The Sikh articles of faith have always been consistent with the best of American values and we are pleased that the burden no longer rests with Sikh soldiers to prove this through a lengthy administrative process," Amandeep Sidhu, partner at McDermott Will and Emery, was quoted as saying by PTI.
A prohibitive ban was placed on Sikh-American soldiers in 1981. Four Sikh-American soldiers had also filed a lawsuit against the US Army in 2016 in this regard.
"My turban and beard represent my commitment to pluralism and equality. This policy change underscore's the military's commitment to these values and is a sign of meaningful progress that will ensure the strength of our democracy," Major Kalsi had said. He was the first Sikh-American who was allowed to serve in the US military without violating his articles of faith in over a generation.