In a major decision that might have a far reaching impact on Sikhs joining the United States military, the Pentagon has issued new instructions relaxing norms to allow troops to wear jewellery and apparel to comply with their religious requirements.
The uniform relaxation would allow personnel from different religions to wear turbans, skullcaps, keep beards and tattoos.
However, given the new instructions still stresses on wearing protective equipment like helmets, the relaxations in the norms might still not be enough for letting the Sikhs community to join the American armed forces in large numbers, a long pending demand of the Sikh-American community.
"The new policy states that military departments will accommodate religious requests of service members unless a request would have an adverse effect on military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion and good order and discipline," Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt Cmdr Nathan J
Christensen said in a statement on Wednesday.
"All requests for accommodation of religious practices will be assessed on a case-by-case basis," he said. "Each request must be considered based on its unique facts, the nature of the requested religious accommodation, the effect of approval or denial on the service member's exercise of religion, and the effect of approval or denial on mission accomplishment, including unit cohesion," he said.
Christensen said immediate commanders may resolve religious accommodation requests that don't require a waiver of military department or service policies that address wearing of military uniforms and religious apparel, grooming, appearance or body-art standards.
The factors used to determine if religious apparel interferes with military duties include whether the item impairs the safe and effective operation of weapons, military equipment or machinery, poses a health or safety hazard to the service member wearing the religious apparel; or interferes with the wear or function of special or protective clothing or equipment such as helmets, flak jackets, flight suits, camouflaged uniforms, protective masks, wet suits and crash and rescue equipment, he said.
Christensen said the Pentagon believes the new instruction will enhance commanders' and supervisors' ability to promote the climate needed to maintain good order and discipline, and will reduce the instances and perception of discrimination toward those whose religious expressions are less familiar to the command.