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Sikh Wins Battle to Wear Religious Garb on Active Duty
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As a young atheist in the Army, I took great delight in registering as a follower of various obscure religions each time I switched duty stations, because the base chaplain was supposed to provide appropriate services for me. It was a stupid, albeit fun, thing to do and I never did get my Zoroastrian services. I served with soldiers from every walk of life and a variety of religions, although the topic rarely came up. Nobody wore a crucifix on their lapel, or a Star of David, or any other religious insignia, and the unit remained cohesive.

Today a Sikh, represented by a pro bono team from McDermott Will & Emery, convinced the army to allow him to serve while in religious garb, including a beard and a turban. Although the army says this was an individual decision, it’s hard to see how it won’t set a precedent for followers of all faiths to press a claim.

As a rule, I try to keep my editorializing here to a minimum, but this is something I feel passionate about. The military has strict rules for uniform appearance and those rules are applied evenly to people of all faiths and all walks of life. Rich, poor, black, white, Ivy League and high school grad all appear the same in army green. Uniform standards promote unit cohesion because they avoid singling anyone out. Uniform standards also ensure that military equipment is efficient – it’s difficult to get a tight seal on a gas mask with a beard, for example.

  
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Today it seems that the need for uniformity is even greater, particularly when it comes to overt religious displays. We are sending men and women into two conflict zones, and in both we are asking them to fight an enemy that perceives this is a religious war. Visible signs of faith will only exacerbate an already tense situation, while we work to convince the populace that we are not on a religious crusade.

I welcome your comments.

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