In the past two weeks, two major groups have changed their uniform policies to accommodate the needs of members of a small religious group in the United States.
Sikhism was founded in what is now Pakistan.
Pew Research estimates there are 140,000 Sikh adults and 200,000 American Sikhs of all ages. Other groups give estimates as low as 78,000 and as high as 500,000.
Adherents seek to build a close, loving relationship with God. They believe that everyone has equal status in the eyes of God and reject the caste system of Hinduism.
They also have a religious-based dress code that includes long hair, beards and turbans, which military and law enforcement often don’t support.
At the end of December, the New York Police Department announced it will allow officers to wear beards up to half an inch and turbans for religious reasons.
Previously, yarmulkes and hijabs were allowed under police hats for Muslims and Jews, but Sikhs had to wear a small covering called a patka, often worn by children. The rule change allows turbans as long as they are navy blue with a hat shield attached. Hair has to be tucked inside.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Army changed its policy to accommodate Sikhs also.
The Becket Fund had been fighting on behalf of Simmer Singh, a member of the Army who regretted shaving his beard and leaving off his turban when told at West Point in 2006 that he had to make a choice between the military and his religious actions.
In 2015, Singh learned about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993. The act says the Army cannot suppress a soldier’s sincere religious exercise without a compelling government reason.
An accommodation was granted, but Singh was asked to undergo a series of tests, so his legal team filed suit. In March, the court told the Department of Defense to stop all testing of Singh and grant him protection while the case was going on. The legal team also filed a similar suit for three other members of the Army.
This week, the Army issued new regulations. These say that Sikh soldiers will be able to keep their beards, unshorn hair and wear the turbans required by their faith. Some exceptions, mostly dealing with safety issues, are in the policy.
Sources: http://www.pewresearch.org/2012/08/06/ask-the-expert-how-many-us-sikhs/; http://www.becketfund.org/sikh-military-victory/; http://www.religioustolerance.org/; http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-nypd-beards-turbans-20161229-story.html