Americans could soon begin seeing the unusual sight of US military service members walking around in Islamic hijab and other religious garb like turbans.
This after the United States Air Force dramatically changed its dress code policy last month to allow airmen to wear religious apparel so long as it presents an overall “professional and well-groomed appearance.”
According to the newest update to the “Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel” code, material used for religious headwear must fit the assigned uniform color, including camouflage.
Furthermore, beards will be allowed for religious reasons. Individual members must request permission for unshorn hair and facial hair, but upon exceeding two inches the regulations call for it to be “rolled and/or or tied” to meet the new standards.
US Air Force adherents to the Muslim and Sikh faiths are those most likely to take advantage of the loosening uniform changes — the latter which are now also authorized to wear under-turbans or patkas even in indoor areas (where headwear is typically removed).
But a couple of military members identifying with “Norse Heathen faiths” have already stepped up to claim a religious exemption for their beards, as The Air Force Times explains:
Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa in June 2019 became the first active-duty Sikh airman allowed to wear a turban, beard and long hair, which Sikhs tie in a bun and then cover with the turban.
And at least two airmen who follow the Norse Heathen, or pagan, faiths have been granted permission to wear a beard.
The new uniform regulations note, however, that the individual’s chain of command can order the removal of religious headgear in various circumstances if it “furthers a compelling governmental interest.”
One example would be for exercises involving the necessity of donning a chemical/biological gas mask, which must fit snuggly over the head.
For years the US armed services resisted such religious accommodation, emphasizing standard “clean cut” uniformity and appearance across the board — but various “religious freedom” lawsuits were recently brought by the ACLU, which began to drive limited policy changes.