January 06, 2017

Kaine, Gillibrand Praise Army Decision To Ease Access To Religious Accommodations For Sikhs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Kirsten Gillibrand, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, applauded the U.S. Army decision this week to reform its policy to allow brigade-level commanders to permit Sikh servicemembers to serve without having to abandon their articles of faith. Previously, the Army granted religious accommodations at the Secretary level; such accommodations were often short-term and required a lengthy approval process, during which time Sikh servicemembers were not permitted to wear turbans, beards, or unshorn hair. Members of Congress from both parties and twenty-seven former generals have urged the Department of Defense (DoD) to reform its decades-old policy prohibiting Sikhs from serving while keeping such articles of faith.  

“I applaud the Army’s decision to allow brigade-level commanders to make long-term accommodations for Sikhs and other religiously observant servicemembers,” said Kaine. “This change represents important progress in preventing any servicemember from having to choose between devotion to religion and service to country, and I encourage DoD to consider fully repealing its policy preventing practicing Sikhs from serving. Our military is strongest in defending our liberties when it embraces our country’s religious diversity and permits all members of our armed forces to serve without regard to religious practice.”

“I’m very pleased about the Army’s decision to give greater religious accommodation to all Americans, including Sikhs,” said Gillibrand, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. “Sikh Americans have served in our military since World War I, and these brave service members should never have to choose between service to their country and their religious beliefs. This is an important step forward, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to protect the rights of Sikh Americans and all Americans who choose to serve our country.”

Kaine and Gillibrand urged the DoD to modify its policy to allow practicing Sikhs to serve in 2013 and 2014.