A Sikh can be allowed to enter the US military with turban and beard, the Pentagon has said, noting that the approval in this regard would be given on a case by case basis and there is no universal or automatic approval to the new relaxed religious norms.
"It does," the Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters yesterday when asked if the new relaxation in religious norms for the military personnel announced a day earlier means that the Sikhs would now be allowed to wear their turbans.
"I think there were some Sikhs that were talking about this policy. It does allow for that. But, again, it has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, evaluated by the unit commander, and the mission can't suffer as a result of accommodating some of these religious requirements," he said.
"So it's yes, a Sikh can request the wearing of religious attire, but, again, it has to be looked at case-by-case," he said, adding that there is no automatic approval or universal application of this new rule.
"If by automatic, you mean universally and apply all at once, no. Two points that need to be made clear about this. One, we're saying as a department we will accommodate these preferences and religious requirements. Number two, the mission can't suffer as a result," Kirby said.
"If a service member is requesting a waiver for something that doesn't require changes to a uniform, like, for instance, or grooming an appearance standard set by the service, those can be handled at the unit level, and we think they should be handled at the lowest level possible," he said.
"If, however, the request requires a waiver of service policy with respect to grooming standards or appearance or the wearing of a uniform, then it's going to go higher in the chain of command, perhaps all the way up to the personnel chief of the service," Kirby said.
Describing this as a welcome move, Sikh-Americans said they would work with the Pentagon to improve the rules.
"The Sikh Coalition is deeply appreciative that the Pentagon established a formal process so that aspiring Sikh American Soldiers and other Soldiers of faith may request accommodation of their articles of faith," Washington-based Sikh Coalition said.
"We are disappointed, however, that the presumptive ban on Sikh articles of faith remains intact," the Coalition said.
"We will respectfully work with our Nation's military leadership to improve these regulations and promote the rights that our brave Soldiers are working to protect," the Coalition said in a statement.