BREAK-DOWN OF TRADITION — US military makes uniform rules less-uniform to accommodate religious minorities

A memorandum has been signed that revises US Army uniform policy to make it, for lack of a better phrase, less-uniform.

The new rules relaxes policy for religious minorities who feel the current uniform policy infringes on their religious rights and freedoms. It is seemingly intended to draw more “diverse” groups of Americans to the armed forces.

Some of the new accommodations include allowing beards less than two inches in length and the wearing of headscarves, hijabs, turbans, or patkas. Head coverings must be made of “subdued” material (not reflective or shiny) and match the wearer’s uniform. Hijabs must be free of markings or other designs and patrol caps or berets must be worn over them. Although religious head wear may be permitted, it must not interfere with protective head gear like helmets. Religious bracelets are also allowed.

Interestingly, according to Reuters (via Yahoo):

“The accommodation will not affect job specialties or duty locations, except in a few limited cases, the memo says.”

What does “limited cases” mean? According to ArmyTimes bearded soldiers are exempt from serving as CBRN officers or as specialists. CBRN, or Chemical, Biological, Radiological, & Nuclear officers are expected to wear protective gear like suits or respirators to protect themselves from chemical, biological, or radio-logical hazards in the field.

Any accommodation exemptions must be made to brigade commanders for approval. If denied, exemptions can be appealed to the Army secretary.

Besides religious clothing, prohibition of hair styles including braids and cornrows has also been relaxed.

Last year a Muslim high school student who applied to Citadel Military college in South Carolina appealed to the school for permission to wear a Muslim headscarf as part of her uniform. Her request was considered then denied. The incident had been covered in the mainstream media, sometimes framed as an issue of civil rights. The student’s family raised the spectre of a potential lawsuit against the school. The student was eventually accepted into Norwich University in Vermont which accommodated her head wear request.

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