The Air Force has finally finalized new guidelines that provide a clear approval process for Muslims and Sikhs who want to serve while wearing their religious clothing.
Muslims and Sikhs can request for religious accommodation to wear turbans, beards, unshorn hair and hijabs. Their requests will be approved as long as their appearance is deemed “neat and conservative,” except under extremely limited circumstances.
The final review of the application has to be done within 30 days for cases within the U.S., and 60 days for all other cases. For the most part, the religious accommodation is expected to apply throughout the airmen’s career.
Previously, Muslims and Sikhs had to individually request for religious accommodations which were granted case-by-case. However, the approval process could be very lengthy.
The new guidelines standardize the process and provide a formal approval timeline.
While Sikh and Muslim advocacy groups admitted that the new guidelines were a significant step toward inclusion, some maintained that the military needed to do more.
Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement, “We support these new guidelines as a step toward religious accommodation and inclusion for military personnel of all faiths.”
The Sikh Coalition and the Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA) have both called on the US military to allow individuals from religious minorities to serve without exception.
Giselle Klapper, a staff attorney for the Sikh Coalition, said in a statement, “Sikhs have served honorably and capably in the U.S. 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 Department of Defense should have a consistent and department wide policy on religious accommodation,” SAVA President Kamal Singh Kalsi said in a news release. “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.”
Last year, Airmen 1st Class Sunjit Singh Rathour and Jaspreet Singh received religious accommodations.
In 2018, Maysaa Ouza became the first officer in the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps authorized to wear a hijab.