U.S. Army eases rules on beards, turbans
for Muslim, Sikh troops
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[January 06, 2017]
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has
taken new steps to make it easier for Sikhs, Muslims and other religious
minorities to obtain approval to dress and groom themselves according to
their religious customs while serving in the military, a spokesman said
Army Secretary Eric Fanning, in a memorandum signed this week, revised
the uniform policy to set appearance standards for people seeking
religious accommodations to wear beards, turbans and head scarfs.
The new rules also enable brigade-level commanders to approve the
religious accommodations, an authority that previously rested with the
Army secretary. Denial of a religious accommodation may be appealed as
high as the Army secretary.
An approved religious accommodation will continue throughout the
soldier's career and may not be revoked or modified without approval of
the Army secretary, the memo says. The accommodation will not affect job
specialties or duty locations, except in a few limited cases, the memo
"Our goal is to balance soldier readiness and safety with the
accommodation of our soldiers' faith practices, and this latest
directive allows us to do that," Lieutenant Colonel Randy Taylor said in
The new rules were welcomed by the Sikh Coalition.
"We are pleased with the progress that this new policy represents for
religious tolerance and diversity," said coalition Legal Director
Sikhs have a long tradition of military service in India and elsewhere
and have served in the United States as far back as World War One. But
uniform reforms after the Vietnam War made it difficult for them to
serve without violating the tenets of their faith.
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U.S. troops participate in Latvia's Independence Day military parade
in Riga, Latvia, November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
The new rules permit religious accommodations for beards, but they
may not be longer than 2 inches unless rolled or tied up. Soldiers
with a religious accommodation may wear a turban or under-turban
known as a patka.
Soldiers with religious accommodations still must be able to wear
combat helmets and other protective headgear and must modify their
hairstyles to achieve a proper fit.
The new rules allow head scarfs, or hijabs, for Muslim women. They
must be of a similar color to the uniform and be free of designs or
markings, unless they are camouflage and worn with a camouflage
Hair grooming rules have been amended to allow for braids, cornrows,
twists or locks, the memo said.
(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)
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