The U.S. Army issued a memo Tuesday updating the military branch’s rules, making it easier for Sikh and Muslim Americans to serve while wearing their articles of faith.
The update told brigade-level commanders to allow religious accommodations for beards, turbans, hijabs and hair for soldiers in all roles as long as the requester’s religious belief is sincere and is not a hazard.
“This is major progress, not just for the Sikh American community but for our nation’s military. Sikh Americans love this country and want a fair chance to serve in our country on equal footing,” Rep. Joe Crowley of New York, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said in a statement. “We are a stronger nation, with a stronger military, because of our respect for religious and personal freedom.”
According to The Sikh Coalition, Sikh Americans were allowed to serve in the U.S military with the choice of wearing their religious clothes before 1974. However, since 1981, the military has called for stricter grooming regulations and required requests for religious accommodations on an individual basis.
Since 1981, only nine Sikh Americans have been granted the right to wear their religious articles.
“For the past eight years, The Sikh Coalition has led the effort to build a ‘proof of concept’ that the Sikh articles of faith are completely compatible with our military’s safety and uniformity standards,” Amandeep Sidhu, a lawyer and the co-founder of The Sikh Coalition, told NBC News.
Before Tuesday’s update, many politicians and former members of the military showed support for soldiers who wanted to serve while wearing articles of faith. In November 2015, 27 retired U.S generals released a memo advocating for their religious liberty while over a hundred Congressman did the same in March 2014.
“Given the achievement of [Sikh American] soldiers and their demonstrated ability to comply with operational requirements while practicing their faith, we believe it is time for our military to make inclusion of practicing Sikh Americans the rule, not the exception,” read the letter from the Congress members in 2014.