News / USA

Sikhs Say New US Military Rules on Beards Not Enough

Sikhs Say New U.S. Military Rules on Beards Not Enoughi
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February 06, 2014 1:34 AM
The United States military recently announced new rules that it says will give service members more freedom to wear beards and certain garments for religious reasons. VOA Pentagon correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, though, that members of some religious groups believe the new rules don't go far enough.
Luis Ramirez
The United States military recently announced new rules that it says will give service members more freedom to wear beards and certain garments for religious reasons. Members of some religious groups, however, believe the new rules don't go far enough.

The U.S. military generally bans beards, as a way of maintaining uniformity and safety. Now the military will make it easier for service members to get waivers to keep their beards on religious grounds - and wear certain religious items, like turbans -- as long as they don't interfere with the mission or the use of equipment like gas masks and helmets.

Pentagon spokesman, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, said, “All of these changes that you're seeing writ large are really, I think, just an honest effort to make sure that - that Americans of all stripes and sizes are able to serve in the United States military.”   

The issue came up recently in the trial of Nidal Hasan, the Muslim U.S. army major convicted of a 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood. The judge ordered Hasan to shave his beard.

Sikhs speak out

The new rules come not as a result of pressure from Muslims, though, but from a small group of Sikhs. There are three observant Sikhs in the U.S. military. U.S. Army Reserve Major Kamal Kalsi, an emergency room doctor and decorated war hero, is one of them.  

He spoke about the changes via Skype. “We're very happy about that, but this is still a long ways from the policy change that we really need.”

The Sikh religion forbids its members from ever cutting their hair or beards. While the new rules allow commanders to waive certain grooming violations, they require those who apply for such waivers to comply with existing grooming regulations in the meantime - something Sikh advocate Rajdeep Singh said is unacceptable.

“An observant Sikh has to check his religion at the door before they can get into the military. In other words, they may have to shave their beards, cut their hair, stop wearing a turban while their request for an accommodation is pending,” said Singh.

Advocates dissatisfied

Critics also oppose the part of the regulations that requires them to apply for a waiver every time they move to a new post.

American Islamic groups are encouraged by the changes and say they want further accommodations - especially for women soldiers.

Abdel-Rasheed Muhammad was the U.S. military's first Muslim chaplain, and he spoke via Skype. “They're still not allowed to wear the religious headcovering known as hijab, and this is something that also has caused a great deal of consternation within the Muslim community.  And so we would like to see some real consideration given to that,” he said.

The Pentagon says it will be up to commanders in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines to implement the rules.  

Advocates say they will continue to push for more changes as those rules are fine-tuned.

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by: Peter
February 08, 2014 12:21 AM
As a soldier in the Army, I can sympathize with those who desire to be obedient to their religious creeds. The commenter who said "Idiots should exercise their freedom of religion outside of the military barracks," didn't take the time to analyze what he said. You didn't waste any time in making an Ad Hominem attack. Also, if there is "freedom of religion," soldiers should have the "freedom" to exercise this right inside the barracks too.

I took an oath to defend the very constitution that upholds the freedom of my battle buddies and every one else who calls the USA home.

As soldiers, we are constantly being told to place the mission first. Everything we do has to ultimately support the mission. Please tell a solider who frequently is dealing with issues of life and death: "Idiot, that religious stuff belongs outside the barracks." That will really help the mission succeed.


by: Ikjyot Singh Kohli
February 07, 2014 2:32 PM
The racism on this board is phenomenal. I have always admired the United States for its principles of freedom and equality, and the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of religion. The constitution trumps all, at least I hope that is the position of people on this board. Sikhs are NOT Muslims, not related to anything in Islam. In World War II, Sikhs fought bravely alongside the Allied forces against the Nazis. The Sikhs were used to raid Nazi camps at midnight. Sikhs were also paratroopers. Here's the interesting part: They did all of these things without any modifications to their uniform! Full turbans and beards intact. Churchill in a very famous speech, talked about this.

Sikhs fought and died for the defense of YOUR freedoms, and now you racist buffoons have the audacity to say the types of things that are being said on this board. You people are the least American people I know.

In Response

by: Anonymous
February 07, 2014 7:49 PM
Just so you know, Sikhs fought on both sides of WWII. Those that fought on the Nazis side were looking to breaking their country free from British rule.

And America joined the war to help the Alliance, our Allies our friends for their freedom from Axis, that war was not for our American freedom. We fought that battle with the American Revolution from Britain and ended it 1776.


by: Will Bush from: The Villages FL
February 06, 2014 3:53 PM
I believe this is a volunteer military???? If you volunteer you are saying you agree to the rules. Pretty simple.

In Response

by: Not given
February 07, 2014 9:39 AM
"But what if I want to serve my country and I wear a turban. Being a soldier is a privileged not a duty"

Not a duty but a privilege? Baloney. So you say you are willing to die for your country, but not shave for it?

In Response

by: John
February 06, 2014 9:26 PM
But what if I want to serve my country and I wear a turban. Being a soldier is a privileged not a duty, and many Americans should not have to cut their beards in order to serve the country they love.


by: Anonymous
February 06, 2014 2:27 PM
THE ENEMY WILL EASILY INFITRATE THE US MILITARY.IMAGINE A US MARINE DRESSED LIKE A TERRORIST?

In Response

by: Karam
February 06, 2014 9:20 PM
Of course, everyone man that wears a turban apparently loves to kill innocent civilians. Well said.


by: Mo from: Nigeria
February 06, 2014 1:18 PM
would the Saudi army allow me wear a Christian cross with my army gear?

In Response

by: Karam
February 06, 2014 9:16 PM
This isn't Saudi-Arabia, in America, all and everyone should be allowed to serve their own country regardless of what their beliefs are.


by: Anthony J Mangan
February 06, 2014 12:37 PM
An army of one should mean just that, standard dress and standard appearance. The weakness of our military leaders who seem to be led around by congress without a fight is reflected in these decisions. We need soldiers not Christians or seiks or muslims or any other designation, just warriors.


by: chad from: usa
February 06, 2014 9:42 AM
I agree with Xaaji. Now muslims will push harder for changes to accommodate them. American military members will soon look ridiculous with long beards, turbins, sandals, etc. Give an inch they want a mile.
Funny how our society is expected to change for immigrants, didn't the immigrants previously accept our rules and our way of life? Now they push for us to change. Stand firm Americans, do not change. Your Christian children will have fewer accommodations than muslims in schools and elsewhere.

In Response

by: a from: merican
February 07, 2014 9:34 AM
"America was made by immigrants and your rationally fear of brown people is blinding of the path America needs to take."

True, by immigrants who wanted to become like the ones who built the country into the great country that it was - not ones who wanted to change the country into the one like the they fled from.

In Response

by: John
February 06, 2014 9:24 PM
America was made by immigrants and your rationally fear of brown people is blinding of the path America needs to take. People that are advocating this bill aren't immigrants there Americans and they love this country every bit as much as you do. Why not have an army that is shaped as the United State's population. Diverse and weird.


by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
February 06, 2014 2:47 AM
These nonsense religious symbols carried on by men or women should not be allowed in military institutions.
Idiots should exercise their freedom of religion outside of military barracks.

In Response

by: Deonarine Heera from: Smithfield RI
February 08, 2014 5:09 PM
Lack of Courage--I am a proud Hindu--who served for 29 years on active duty-- I am ashamed of the leadership--who clear;y demonstrated that they lack Courage-and gave in to Religious Group--Our Military Leadership fails every veteran Past and Present ---The Sergeant Major of the Army -- Fail as well- Keep in mine -NCO in the past uphold the American Tradition and Custom--Courtesy --NCO's are responsibility --leaders- we are suppose to be the Guardian and backbone of the Army
Over 200 years immigrants like myself served this Great nation-- and was willing to conformed to US Army Regulation 670-1-- therefore soldiers of different ethnicity and religion you should be willing to do the same-- If you only feel valuable and important - because you are allowed to wear your own religious headgear and grow your beard -- -I considered your service as self service--instead of selfless service--one of the Soldiers VALUE--
Therefore anyone willing to served this Nation should gave special consideration -- they should be proud and conformed to the Regulation -- My question is --if you are unable to make this sacrifice then you will find it impossible for you conformed to the Constitution- Unless you are self serving- So what next--I am afraid for this Nation because pretty soon you religious organization will request their own Flag as a symbol of your religious ID on your uniform ---- God Bless This Nation Because of the Old American Value

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