The U.S. Army has issued a directive on grooming and appearance regulations that allows observant Sikh men and conservative Muslim women to wear religious head coverings.
The policy, announced Tuesday, also permits Sikh soldiers to maintain their beards and female soldiers to wear their hair in dreadlocks.
“The Army has reviewed its policies to ensure soldiers can serve in a manner consistent with their faith so that we can recruit from the broadest pool of America’s best,” Army Secretary Eric Fanning said in a statement.
“Over the last year, the Army conducted rigorous evaluation and validation of how commonly requested accommodations would impact force effectiveness,” Fanning said. “Our goal has always been to ensure soldier readiness and safety while providing reasonable accommodations for these established and recognized faith practices.”
Soldiers will still have to submit their requests for brigade-level approval, the Army Times reported.
The directive states that since 2009, the religious accommodation requests received by the Army have mostly come from soldiers wanting to wear a hijab (Muslim woman’s headscarf) or a Sikh patka (turban) with an uncut beard and hair.
Soldiers, however, will still be required to wear combat helmets or other protective gear when training or deployment requires it.
The changes come after West Point graduate and Bronze Star recipient Capt. Simratpal Singh filed a lawsuit against the Defense Department in 2016. Singh was permitted to wear the beard and turban in the Army until a ban was imposed in the 1980s, according to the Army Times.
“Military experts have always questioned why the U.S. military has restricted Sikhs from serving,” said Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel at Becket Law, which acted as co-counsel on Captain Singh’s behalf. “Our Army will be stronger and our nation safer with Sikhs serving alongside their fellow Americans.”
The military had previously approved other religious head wear. A directive from 2009 states that “a Jewish yarmulke may be worn with the uniform whenever a military cap, hat, or other headgear is not prescribed.”