WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — The United States Army Wednesday issued updated rules in an effort to significantly improve the standards and rights of Sikh and other religious minorities who seek to serve their country with their articles of faith intact.
The new rules, which were signed by the Secretary of the Army, now allow for religious accommodations to be approved at the brigade-level, previously, they could only be approved at the Secretary-level. Additionally, once the approval occurs, appropriate steps will be taken to ensureensure that the religious accommodation is enduring.
“While we still seek a permanent policy change that enables all religious minorities to freely serve without exception,” said Sikh Coalition Legal Director, Harsimran Kaur, in a press release. “We are pleased with the progress that this new policy represents for religious tolerance and diversity by our nation’s largest employer.”
Religious accommodations are currently required for unshorn beards, unshorn hair, turbans and Muslim hijabs. Accommodations must be granted across all duty positions except in certain limited circumstances. The Army intends to conduct 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’re pleased that the burden no longer rests with Sikh soldiers to prove this through a lengthy administrative process,” said Amandeep Sidhu, partner at McDermott Will & Emery.
Beginning in 1981, a prohibitive ban was placed on Sikh American soldiers that forced them to make the false choice between service to faith and country. Last year, after filing lawsuits on behalf of four Sikh American soldiers, including the decorated Captain Simratpal Singh, the U.S. Army has increased the number of individual long-term religious accommodations to nine.
“My turban and beard represent my commitment to pluralism and equality,” said Major Kalsi, the first Sikh American in more than a generation to serve in the military while wearing his articles of faith. “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.”