During President Barack Obama’s disastrous eight years, the United States military has struggled with how to reply to religious petitions from service members who violate the military’s dress code.
The code has been historically strict, but now in a shocking change, the military announced an immediate change which requires all brigade-level commanders to make religious allowances for “servicemen and women who wear beards, turbans or hijabs.”
The announcement came from a letter signed by Obama’s Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning:
The new guidelines also revise hairstyle standards for female soldiers: They can now wear dreadlocks in addition to cornrows and twists, which were allowed in a revision made in 2014.* Like other hairstyles, locks must be relatively small, uniform, neat, and tied off inconspicuously, and women don’t have to request an accommodation to wear them.
This might seem like an odd choice for a policy directive in the final days of the Obama administration. It came about largely in response to litigation and advocacy from Sikh servicemen who wear beards and turbans for religious reasons, and who wanted to be able to keep them while actively serving.
Some religious leaders including Douglas Carver, a Southern Baptist minister, and the conservative Becket Fund for Religious Liberty support the move, as those who are willing to fight and die for America shouldn’t have to compromise their faith and religious practices.
Apparently, this move is largely in response to legal challenges surrounding turbans mostly worn Sikh-Americans:
Once that approval occurs, the change will ensure that the religious accommodation is enduring and applies to most positions within the US Army.
“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,” Congressman Joe Crowley said welcoming the directive issued by the US Army Secretary.
“We are a stronger nation, with a stronger military because of our respect for religious and personal freedom,” he said.
The move has been welcomed by Sikh-Americans and US lawmakers who have been on the forefront of a national campaign in this regard for the past several years. Before the January 3 changes announced by the US Army, Sikh-Americans and others had to be granted a limited accommodation or permission to serve in the army while maintaining their articles of faith.
However, some disagree. The military code had no exceptions, and soldiers knew what they were signing up for. If these exceptions are made for Muslims and Indians, where does it stop?