WASHINGTON — A clean shave and a boot-camp buzz cut are no longer mandatory for adherents of religions whose grooming practices differ from those traditionally required by the U.S. military.
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that beards, turbans, religious body art and other previously off-limits manifestations of spiritual devotion can now be allowed throughout the military. The policy also OKs other religious practices not related to appearance.
The requests for religious accommodation should “reflect sincerely held beliefs” and not damage military readiness, unit cohesion or good order and discipline, according to a revised Defense Department instruction on accommodation of religious practices.
The policy has its limits, but is designed to allow troops free expression of their religion, as required by Congress in the 2013 National Defense Authorization act, a spokesman said. Jews, Sikhs and Muslims in the military are among those who in recent years have sought greater latitude in order to comply with their religions.
“When requests for accommodation are made, the needs of the requesting servicemember are balanced against the needs of mission accomplishment,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen wrote in an email. “Only if it is determined that the needs of mission accomplishment outweigh the needs of the servicemember may the request be denied.”