December 09, 2015

Kaine Urges DOD To Rescind Policy Preventing Sikhs From Serving In The Military

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, calling on the Department of Defense (DoD) to repeal a dress and appearance policy that prevents practicing Sikhs from serving in the military.

“Under current DoD policy, implemented in 1988, members of the Sikh faith are unable to serve in the military unless they abandon their articles of faith—namely maintaining unshorn hair, beards, and wearing a turban,” Kaine wrote. “While I appreciate the importance of military protocol and understand the importance of unit cohesion, I do not believe that any American should have to choose between his or her religion and service to country."

Thousands of American soldiers and officers already receive grooming and uniform accommodations for reasons other than religion. In June of this year, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia held that a Sikh’s individual readiness is not diminished any more than the readiness of servicemembers who receive non-religious grooming and uniform accommodations.

Kaine previously urged Secretary Carter’s predecessor, Chuck Hagel, to modify DoD’s policy to allow practicing Sikhs to serve in 2013 and 2014.

Full Text of Senator Kaine’s Letter:

December 9, 2015 

The Honorable Ashton Carter
Secretary of Defense
Department of Defense
10000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Carter:

I write you to express my concern about a Department of Defense (DoD) policy that affects a group of religious constituents that is an important population in Virginia.

Under current DoD policy, implemented in 1988, members of the Sikh faith are unable to serve in the military unless they abandon their articles of faith—namely maintaining unshorn hair, beards, and wearing a turban.  While I appreciate the importance of military protocol and understand the importance of unit cohesion, I do not believe that any American should have to choose between his or her religion and service to country.  The June 12, 2015 ruling by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the Secretary of the Army highlights the inequality to exceptions to uniform policy, a majority of which are for secular reasons.  According to the court, a Sikh’s individual readiness is not diminished more than the readiness of tens of thousands of soldiers and officers who have received grooming and uniform accommodations for reasons other than religion. I ask that you take all necessary steps to ensure that this policy is rescinded.

Sikhs fought bravely in defense of our nation in World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In addition to their history of military service in America, Sikhs serve in the militaries of Great Britain, Canada, and India, among others, and as United Nations Peacekeepers—often working closely with American troops in troubled regions. The ability of our service members to partner with  allies from nations with different grooming standards, and the accommodation of “relaxed grooming standards” of many U.S. Special Forces units demonstrates that facial hair and other physical attributes do not negatively impact our forces combat effectiveness or performance of military duties.

Our military has a long and distinguished history of training individuals from diverse backgrounds and communities to achieve one, unifying goal: to protect and defend the United States. By disallowing members of the Sikh faith the ability to fully practice their religion while serving, the military denies itself access to the important talents and abilities of these individuals who are willing to fight and die for our nation. Including Sikh Americans will enrich the military’s understanding of diverse cultures, languages, and religions, thereby allowing us to fully appreciate not only the rich fabric of our own country, but also the lands where we send our service members into harm’s way.

Over sixty years ago, President Harry Truman declared, “there will be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” These words are especially relevant in today’s modern world. I urge you to abide by the spirit of this message and allow all Sikh Americans to serve without giving up vital aspects of their religion.

Thank you for your service and for your consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

Tim Kaine

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