Retired generals join push for Pentagon to accommodate Sikhs
Twenty-seven retired generals are urging the Pentagon to lift restrictions they say prevent Sikh Americans from serving in the military.
“Under your leadership, the U.S. Department of Defense has taken important steps toward recognizing the importance of religious faith to the lives of our service members,” the generals wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter this week. “Nevertheless, obstacles remain for patriotic Sikh Americans who wish to serve in our nation’s military while maintaining their articles of faith.”
The letter, spearheaded by the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group, argues that the process for Sikhs to be granted religious exemptions is onerous and needs to be changed.
Devout followers of the South Asian religion wear turbans and have unshorn hair.
“Although Sikhs have served honorably in the U.S. military since World War I, restrictive appearance regulations adopted in 1981 created barriers to their service,” the generals write.
Since 2009, the Army has granted individual accommodations for three Sikhs. Two deployed to Afghanistan and earned the Bronze Star.
Under a rule change last year, the armed services will accommodate religious requests for individual service members unless the request would interfere with military readiness, a mission or unit cohesion.
But the generals maintain that Sikhs are still excluded.
“The new guidelines presumptively exclude Sikh articles of faith, forcing Sikhs to repeatedly apply for waivers and even violate their religion while an accommodation request is pending,” they write.
The generals’ letter joins ones sent to the Pentagon in 2014 by 105 representatives and 15 senators.