U.S. Military Religious Accommodations: Beards, Tattoos, Piercings
JANUARY 23, 2014
The U.S. military, long the bastion of discipline and respect, is about to take a tumble in that area by changing strict uniform and grooming regulations to accommodate religion, including a form of witchcraft called Wicca.
It’s no joke, though it may sound like one. The Pentagon is pushing aside its longtime uniform and grooming—no beards and shortly cropped hair for men—rules so that service members can practice a variety of religions. The policy change will allow beards, long hair, religious tattoos and turbans to be worn by members in uniform, according to the Department of Defense (DOD) Instruction issued this week. The document was originally issued in 2009 and updated this month. The changes are written in red and the original policy in black.
Under the new rules Muslim service members can request to wear a beard and carry prayer beads, Wiccans, who practice “Magick,” can seek accommodations according to that religion, Jews can get permission to wear a yarmulke while in uniform and Sikhs can have long hair. Tattoos, which are banned on the neck and below elbows or knees, can also be allowed under “religious body art,” the new DOD order says. This also permits “piercings through the skin or body parts,” unheard of in the military. It’s all in the name of religious freedom and, of course, political correctness.
Under the original military rules, religious apparel, described as articles of clothing worn as part of the doctrinal or traditional observance of the religious faith, was pretty much banned. It is, after all, the military, a “specialized community within the United States governed by a discipline separate from that of the rest of society, the importance of uniformity and adhering to standards.” Those are the words used by the DOD to warn that it will take “careful consideration of the effect” before approving the new religious accommodations.
The powers that be will consider whether a fellow soldier sporting long hair under a turban or waving a special wand to practice “magick” will have a negative effect on “unit cohesion” before approving a religious accommodation. “All requests for accommodations of religious practices will be assessed on a case-by-case basis,” the DOD writes. Every request will be “carefully evaluated,” the Pentagon assures.
Wouldn’t it be easier to stick with the original rules? It’s not like they weren’t fully disclosed to enlistees. Here they are, straight from the DOD document: “Hair and grooming practices required or observed by religious groups are not included within the meaning of religious apparel. Jewelry bearing religious inscriptions or otherwise indicating affiliation or belief is subject to existing service uniform regulations under the same standard that applies to jewelry that is not of a religious nature.”
That means soldiers could always wear “neat and conservative” items of religious apparel when in uniform. The DOD describes this as discreet, tidy and not dissonant or showy in style, size, design, brightness or color. The items of religious expression could not replace or interfere with the proper wear of any authorized article of the uniform. It certainly sounds reasonable, though Sikh and Muslim groups have denounced it.
In fact, the Sikh Coalition, a Washington D.C. advocacy group, says the DOD’s new policy doesn’t go far enough because the “presumptive ban on Sikh articles of faith remains intact.” The group cautions that Sikh soldiers may seek religious accommodation, but they must still go through a “lengthy and uncertain administrative process before being approved or denied the opportunity to serve their country with their religiously-mandated turbans and beards.”
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