Unlike France and Quebec, the US cherishes and supports diversity as Pentagon OKs religious beards and attire

Posted on January 23, 2014

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The U.S. military approved a new policy that loosens regulations on religious symbols worn by service members, the Pentagon announced Wednesday — a victory for some Sikhs, who have pushed for the move after being barred from serving for insisting on wearing turbans and beards in accordance with their faith.

Pentagon spokesman Nathan Christensen said the new policy, which also allows service members to request prayer time or engage in other religious activities, should not interfere with a soldier’s ability to perform, and “should balance the need of the service member against the need to accomplish the military mission.”

The looser regulations will also affect Jews, Muslims and Wiccans, who were not allowed to serve if they insisted on wearing tattoos, beards or other religious symbols.

Military departments will accommodate religious requests of service members, Christensen said, unless a request would have an adverse effect on performance. The factors influencing this assessment include monitoring whether the item would impair the “safe and effective” operation of weapons, and whether it poses a risk to wearing protective measures such as helmets and masks.

Requests to accommodate religious practices will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, the statement added.

“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,” Christensen said.

[,,,] The Pentagon’s decision counters international trends to curb displays of religious attire in public service. Politicians in Quebec proposed to issue a ban on religious symbols for state employees in August of last year. And in France, politicians are amplifying their rhetoric on removing religion from the public sphere ahead of the 2014 European parliamentary elections.

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DOD Releases New Religious Accommodation Instruction

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2014 – The Defense Department today released a new instruction that details its updated policy on making religious accommodations requested by service members, Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan J. Christensen said today.

A DOD instruction implements a policy or prescribes the manner or plan of action used to carry out a policy, operate a program or activity, and assign responsibilities.

“The new policy states that military departments will accommodate religious requests of service members,” Christensen said, “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.

“The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the military services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and the rights of others to their own religious beliefs,” Christensen said, “including the right to hold no beliefs.”

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