The US Air Force has made an update to its existing dress code policy, allowing Sikhs and Muslims to wear their articles of faith while performing their duties.
According to a CNN report, the new guidelines were finalised on 7 February that mention that Sikhs and Muslims can seek the approval of a religious accommodation to sport turbans, beards, hijabs. An approval will be granted till the time the officers appear to be “neat and conservative,” with extremely limited situations being an exception.
The guidelines further outline the review period of the religious accommodations. “Final review will take place within 30 days for cases arising within the US and within 60 days for all other cases, with strict limitations on exception for exigent circumstances,” read the guidelines.
Sikh Coalition Welcomes US Air Force’s Guidelines
The Sikh Coalition, a community-based organisation, in a press release issued on 12 February stated that Airman 1st Class (A1C) Gurchetan Singh, is the first Sikh American to secure a religious accommodation to serve in the Air National Guard.
Sikh Coalition Staff Attorney Giselle Klapper said, “No Sikh American should have to choose between their religious beliefs and their career ambitions. Sikhs have served honorably and capably in the US Armed Forces and other militaries around the world, and while we are eager for a blanket proclamation that all observant Sikh Americans can serve in every branch of the military without seeking accommodations, this policy clarification is a great step forward towards ensuring equality of opportunity and religious freedom in the Air Force,” the press release quoted as saying.
Further, Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA) President Kamal Singh Kalsi said that the Department of Defense should have a “consistent and department wide policy on religious accommodation.”
He said, “Those who are committed and qualified to serve our country in uniform should be able to do so in a more streamlined and efficient manner,” the CNN report added.
Earlier, Sikhs and Muslims who were serving in the Air Force had to individually request for religious accommodations. They were granted on a case-to-case basis and the approval process could take more time.
Religious Accommodation in the Past
In June 2019, Airman Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, who joined the Air Force in 2017, was allowed by the United States Air Force to serve with a beard, turban and unshorn hair, making him the first active-duty airman to be granted such a religious accommodation.
The Air Force granted him an accommodation after Bajwa gained representation from the SAVA, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NBC news had then reported.
In 2016, Captain Simratpal Singh, a decorated Sikh-American officer and combat veteran, had received a long-term religious accommodation from the US Army to serve with long hair, a beard, and turban.
(With inputs from CNN)