Lawmakers want the U.S. military to allow Sikhs to join and stop what they are calling a ban on this religious group. More than 100 lawmakers are asking the Pentagon to reconsider the issues it has with their traditional beards and turbans. These items are part of their religion and cannot be removed as part of U.S. military policy.
The U.S. military’s strict dress and appearance code is keeping Sikhs from joining, according to the Associated Press. Lawmakers want the Defense Department to make special concessions for this religious group since the beards and turbans are part of how they define their faith. They cannot shave, and they cannot stop wearing the turbans to comply with dress codes.
The U.S. Army has managed to have three Sikhs serve over the course of many years, but lawmakers state these are rare and unusual exceptions. Despite only having three examples, lawmakers point to the great service of these Sikhs as a sign that the military is missing out on many great members by being too restrictive.
A policy change earlier this year gave Sikhs hope that the military was becoming more relaxed in its code because it allowed for waivers. Sikhs could submit a religious waiver to keep their beards and turbans, but there are problems with the process. Lawmakers claim that this is not a perfect solution because waivers have to be renewed all the time, and they can be rejected.
The Defense Department has not offered a comment on letting Sikh Americans have looser dress code and appearance guidelines in the military. The letter from lawmakers has not received an official response, but it may come later. The lawmakers want clear guidelines to be set for Sikhs and others who may feel discriminated because of their religious attire.
Lawmakers point to the ever-changing nature of the military dress code as a stepping stone to make rules clearer. They believe it is time the U.S. joined other militaries by allowing Sikhs and not restricting their appearance. The military has shown it can be flexible with uniforms on occasion such as the recent decision to let members roll their sleeves again. However, it is not easy to add or change current policies, and any modifications usually take months to go into effect. The lawmakers are not losing hope that their letter will inspire a change in the United States military.