U.S. service men and women who wish to wear a turban, beard or hijab for religious reasons will be able to gain approval thanks to revised uniform regulations that aim to better accommodate religious minorities serving in the military.
The revisions — outlined in a memorandum signed by U.S. Army Secretary Eric Fanning earlier this week — allow brigade-level commanders to approve religious accommodations, Reuters reports.
In the past, the authority to approve such accommodations rested with the Army secretary.
Lieut. Colonel Randy Taylor, the army's director of public affairs and assistant secretary, said in a statement, "Our goal is to balance soldier readiness and safety with the accommodation of our soldiers' faith practices, and this latest directive allows us to do that."
Under the new guidelines, Muslim and Sikh servicemen will be able to wear beards, provided they are shorter than 2 in., rolled up or tied. Turbans, patka (under turbans), as well as head scarves or hijab for women, are permitted under the new rules. The memo also stipulates that hair braids, cornrows, twists and locks are also allowed.
"We are pleased with the progress that this new policy represents for religious tolerance and diversity," Harsimran Kaur, legal director of civil-rights-advocacy group the Sikh Coalition, told Reuters.
Previous Army uniform rules had clashed with religious clothing and grooming customs, making it difficult for soldiers to serve without compromising their religious beliefs and traditions. Many American Sikhs have protested the grooming rules, leading to several court cases.