Two U.S. soldiers lose bid to dress according to religious custom

Daily News Article   —   Posted on April 30, 2014

(by David Alexander, Reuters) WASHINGTON – The U.S. Army has denied requests by two soldiers to dress and groom themselves according to their religious beliefs under a revised Pentagon policy (see “Background” below), a spokesman said on Monday.


Sikh soldier Capt. (Dr.) Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, joins his graduating class in singing “The Army Goes Rolling Along” during the Basic Officer Leadership Course graduation ceremony, March 22, 2010 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

The policy, which was approved on January 22, was expected mainly to affect Sikhs, Muslims, Jews and other groups that wear beards, long hair or articles of clothing such as turbans and yarmulkes. It also could affect Wiccans and others who obtain tattoos for religious reasons.

Under the guidelines, the military service branches were encouraged to allow people to dress according to religious custom so long as it did not interfere with good order and discipline within their units.

But the policy has been criticized by lawmakers and members of the affected religious groups, who say the Defense Department is still setting a hurdle essentially prohibiting some people from joining the service.

Lieutenant Colonel Justin Platt, an Army spokesman, said only two soldiers had requested a waiver to the uniform policy for religious purposes since the new policy went into effect. Both were denied.

He was unable to identify the religious group of the two soldiers. The exact timing of the decisions was not clear.

Platt noted that under the policy, local commanders can approve accommodations for worship practices and dietary requirements, but requests that would require a waiver of uniform policy had to be authorized by a senior officer.

Between 2012 and 2014, the officer in charge of the process has approved six exceptions to the Army uniform policy and rejected five.

Those approved included three Sikhs who had previously been granted waivers but would have had needed a new one if they were deployed to a new position, Platt said. The new waivers approved in 2013 would be valid for their full career, he said.

The Army also has granted waivers to the uniform policy for a Jewish chaplain and for two Muslim soldiers, Platt said.

He said the five whose requests were turned down included a future Sikh soldier, an enlisted Sikh soldier, a Muslim female officer and a military prisoner. The prisoner is former Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, who was sentenced to death for the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage that killed 13 people.

More than 100 lawmakers signed a letter last month urging Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to take further steps to ease the military’s uniform policy to allow Sikhs to wear beards, long hair and turbans as they do in other countries.

Officials from the Sikh Coalition said Sikhs who currently join the military run the risk of showing up at basic training and being [required] to cut their hair or shave their beards in violation of their religious beliefs.

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from Thomson Reuters. Visit the website at Reuters .com.



  • A Sikh is a follower of Sikhism, a religion that originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of India.
  • Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world.
  • There are about 26 million Sikhs worldwide.  [The population of the world is approximately 6 billion.]
  • The vast majority of Sikhs live in the Punjab, a part of northern India. Sikhs live in just about every major country around the world.
  • It is estimated that nearly one million Sikhs live in the United States. [The population of the U.S. is approximately 307 million.]

Sikhs maintain a distinctive appearance. Baptized Sikhs keep five articles of faith with them at all times.

  • Part of the religious duty is to keep every hair intact and unaltered. Men, wear turbans to keep long hair tidy. Women wear turbans or long silky scarves.
  • Long hair is groomed daily with a wooden comb.
  • A loose undergarment is worn for modesty.
  • A steel bangle is worn as a sign of faith.
  • Sikhs wear a small sword. It symbolic of battling the senses. It also signifies the Sikh ideal of protecting the innocent against aggressive force. (from about .com)

DOD's Updated Religious Accommodation Policy - On January 22, 2014 the U.S. military updated its policy on making religious accommodations requested by service members. According to Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan J. Christensen:

  • “The new policy states that military departments will accommodate religious requests of service members, unless a request would have an adverse effect on military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion and good order and discipline.”
  • When a service member requests such an accommodation, he added, department officials balance the need of the service member against the need to accomplish the military mission. Such a request is denied only if an official determines that mission accomplishment needs outweigh the need of the service member, Christensen said.
  • Requests to accommodate religious practices will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, the spokesman noted.
  • “Each request must be considered based on its unique facts, the nature of the requested religious accommodation, the effect of approval or denial on the service member's exercise of religion, and the effect of approval or denial on mission accomplishment, including unit cohesion,” he added.
  • Immediate commanders may resolve religious accommodation requests that don’t require a waiver of military department or service policies that address wearing of military uniforms and religious apparel, grooming, appearance or body-art standards.
  • Accommodation requests that require a waiver will be forwarded to the respective military department for determination.

Christensen said that factors used to determine if religious apparel interferes with military duties include whether the item:

  • Impairs the safe and effective operation of weapons, military equipment or machinery;
  • Poses a health or safety hazard to the service member wearing the religious apparel;
  • Interferes with the wear or function of special or protective clothing or equipment such as helmets, flak jackets, flight suits, camouflaged uniforms, protective masks, wet suits and crash and rescue equipment; or
  • Otherwise impairs the accomplishment of the military mission.

The spokesman said department officials believe the new instruction will enhance commanders' and supervisors' ability to promote the climate needed to maintain good order and discipline, and will reduce the instances and perception of discrimination toward those whose religious expressions are less familiar to the command. (from the Department of Defense website defense .gov)