Congress is looking into Pentagon standards that provide guidance on uniform standards. A new call is coming forward to allow those with religious exceptions to not be required to meet the current uniform standards. Particularly, Sikh groups are asking Congress to change the rules, claiming that their requirement to shave their heads and face and not wear a turban is violating their religious freedom.
A group of legislators is asking the Pentagon for a policy change to ensure Sikh troops are never forced to violate their religion by shaving their beards, cutting their hair or getting rid of their turbans.
The Pentagon in January released a new policy that says servicemembers can receive waivers to follow their religions’ grooming standards based on “sincerely held beliefs” so long as the exceptions don’t harm readiness or unit cohesion.
But Sikh groups and the handful of Sikh members of the armed forces say that doesn’t go far enough. The policy requiring waivers from top service branch officials to wear the religion’s mandatory beards and turbans means recruits as well as troops transferring to new assignments might suddenly become liable to regular grooming standards.
A bipartisan group of 105 House members echoed those concerns in a letter sent Monday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that called for an end to the “presumptive ban” on Sikhs in the military.
“(We) believe it is time for our military to make inclusion of practicing Sikh Americans the rule, not the exception,” said the letter from Representatives Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., and Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Tuesday that the Pentagon was still waiting on the letter. But, he said, the Defense Department wants to allow as much religious freedom to members as possible.