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Pentagon's new religious guidelines still discriminatory: Law and Policy for the Sikh Coalition

Thursday, 10 April 2014 - 12:45pm IST | Place: WASHINGTON | Agency: PTI

Pentagon's new religious guidelines are still discriminatory as they impose "stifling" requirements on religion observing service members, according to 21 faith and interfaith groups.

These organisations, in a letter to the Department of Defense, have asked the Pentagon to consider fine-tuning its revised instruction to better accommodate religious practices. The new guidelines require service members to violate their religion while accommodation requests are pending and they are made to repeatedly apply for temporary waivers, the letter which was also signed by the Sikh Coalition said. The letter states that these "stifling" requirements "may needlessly limit career opportunities – or, in some cases, end careers." "If a service member can graduate from boot camp and successfully perform his or her military duties, their religion alone shouldn't be a barrier to serving our country," said Rajdeep Singh, director of Law and Policy for the Sikh Coalition.

Since the Pentagon began restricting the ability of Sikhs to serve in the US Armed Forces in 1981, only three Sikhs – Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan and Cpl Simran Preet Singh Lamba – have received permission to serve in the US Army while maintaining their articles of faith. Despite their achievements, including promotions, awards, and two successful deployments to Afghanistan, their religious accommodations are neither permanent nor guaranteed under the new guidelines, must be constantly renewed and can be taken away at any time even shortly before retirement.

In their letter, the 21 faith and interfaith organisations said as currently drafted, revised instruction would require religion observing service members and prospective service members to remove their head coverings, cut their hair, or shave their beards – a violation of their religious obligations – while their request to accommodate these same religious practices is pending. "This is so, even if they are otherwise qualified to serve and an accommodation is unlikely to undermine safety or other necessary objectives. We urge you to reconsider this provision, which has the effect of forcing some religion observing service members to make an impossible choice between their faith and their chosen profession," the letter said.

Without further revisions, these instructions will have an unwelcome and unnecessary chilling effect on religious liberty and will limit opportunities for talented individuals of faith to serve in our nation's military, it said. The signatories to the letter include Muslim Advocates, National Council of Jewish Women, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society.




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