The U.S. Army has made a major move to relax uniform regulations to allow religious garb such as turbans, beards, and hijabs or head scarves to be worn by soldiers, according to reports.
Previous regulations maintained that all uniformed soldiers had to be uniform in appearance, and exceptions were handled only on a case-by-case basis. But now major exceptions are being made for all soldiers practicing various Muslim faiths, according to the Army Times.
“Based on the successful examples of Soldiers currently serving with these accommodations, I have determined that brigade-level commanders may approve requests for these accommodations,” Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning said in a statement on the regulation changes.
“The Army has reviewed its policies to ensure we allow every opportunity for qualified soldiers to serve, regardless of their faith background,” Lt. Col. Randy Taylor, an Army spokesman, said. “We believe in preserving the First Amendment right of free exercise of religion for those who want to serve in the U.S. Army.”
Along with the exceptions for Muslims, religious bracelets and dreadlocks are to be permitted for female soldiers.
The new rule is particularly welcome to soldiers who practice the Sikh religion, a religion traditionally from areas in the Punjab region of Pakistan and India.
There are thought to be about 700,000 Sikhs in America. Often seen as a warrior people, Sikhs have been steadfast allies during western military efforts at least since World War One, when they joined France and the allies in large numbers to fight the Germans.
The rule comes on the tail of a flurry of lawsuits filed against the military as well as against civilian agencies such as police forces.
At the end of December, for instance, the New York Police Department also changed uniform regulations to allow turbans as religious regalia to be added to uniforms.
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill announced the new policy on December 28 following a graduation ceremony for new recruits. During the announcement, he was surrounded by officers wearing the new navy blue turbans kept in place with police brass that will now be allowed with the policy.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a description of the Sikh religion.
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