National Edition

Pentagon relaxes religious dress, grooming standards among troops

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 28 2014 5:05 p.m. MST

In this Monday, March 22, 2010 photo, U.S. Army Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, center wearing turban, stands with other graduates as they sing "The Army Goes Rolling Along" during a U.S. Army officer basic training graduation ceremony at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. A new Pentagon policy that relaxes restrictions on religious dress and expression among members of the military is getting a mixed reaction.

Darren Abate, Associated Press

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A new Pentagon policy that relaxes restrictions on religious dress and expression among members of the military is getting a mixed reaction.

Stars and Stripes reported this week that "beards, turbans, religious body art and other previously off-limits manifestations of spiritual devotion can now be allowed throughout the military. The policy also OKs other religious practices not related to appearance."

The newspaper explained that previously there were no guidelines to granting religious exemptions to dress and grooming standards. The new policy says the military must demonstrate a compelling reason to deny those requests.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he welcomed any move to broaden religious accommodation in the U.S. military, according to the Huffington Post.

"We've dealt with this issue on a number of occasions, whether it was with beards or with head scarfs or even in support of the Sikh community on the issue of turbans and skullcaps for the Jewish military personnel," he said.

But American Sikh leaders complained that the new rules do not go far enough, according to The New York Times.

“There is still a presumptive ban, which would discourage any recruit,” said Rajdeep Singh, director of law and policy with the Sikh Coalition, told the Times. “If I sign up to join the Army for example, and wear a turban, there’s no guarantee my accommodation request will be granted.”

Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told Stars and Stripes he fears the new policy will be used by conservative Christians to impose their beliefs on others.

“Far from this being all about beards and turbans for Sikhs or yarmulke for Jewish personnel, I am concerned over a potential for a new tsunami of fundamentalist Christian oppression and tyranny from superiors to their subordinates,” Weinstein said.

Fox News contributor and retired Lt. Col. Allen West, who is no supporter of Weinstein's group, called it a "horrible idea" for different reasons.

"This is a breakdown of the good order and discipline," West told Fox's Greta Van Susteren in a wide ranging interview on several topics. "I believe Chairman Joe Wilson, who is head of the subcommittee in the House on military personnel, should immediately call a hearing and start challenging this administration by making these unilateral decisions that's going to affect the military and its personnel. Eventually, it will affect its readiness. It's going to cause more complaints, more issues."

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @deseretbrown

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