New Pentagon Dress Code Stirs Debate

UNITED STATES

The Pentagon took steps to give individual troops greater latitude to wear religious clothing with their uniforms, but some Sikh groups say the new policy falls short. (Reuters)

Use our resources to better understand Sikh articles of faith, including turbans and uncut hair.

Capt. (Dr.) Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist and one of three practicing Sikhs in the U.S. military, joins his graduating class in singing "The Army Goes Rolling Along" during the Basic Officer Leadership Course graduation ceremony in 2010 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Photograph by Steve Elliott, courtesy U.S. Army

Capt. (Dr.) Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist and one of three practicing Sikhs in the U.S. military, joins his graduating class in singing “The Army Goes Rolling Along” during the Basic Officer Leadership Course graduation ceremony in 2010 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Photograph by Steve Elliott, courtesy U.S. Army

Discussion Ideas

  • Read through our “media spotlight” on Sikh dastaars, or turbans. Discuss the “Three Rs of religious liberty” and the “Teaching Strategy” questions.
    • Is there a dress code at your school?
    • If there is a dress code, how does it balance the rights of individuals with their responsibilities to civic society?
    • A dastaar is a very visible expression of religious conviction. What are some other public expressions of religious or atheistic identity? (Answers might be jewelry with religious significance, such as crosses; restricted diets, such as kosher or halal; or women wearing head coverings associated with hijab, a Muslim concept of modesty.)
    • Do you think dastaars or other expressions of religious identity are discussed with respect in your community? How could community members increase respect in the discussion? (Answers may include a suggestion to spend informal time, such as meals, with members of a different faith or atheists; classroom education about public expressions of faith or atheism; or engaging in an art, such as a style of music, associated with a religion or spiritual movement.)
  • Read through the Reuters article. What are some articles of clothing or other religious signifiers that may be included in the new Defense Department dress code?
    • turbans, called dastaars, affiliated with Sikhism
    • yarmulkes or skull-caps, affiliated with Judaism
    • prayer beads, affiliated with Buddhism or Islam
    • uncut hair or beards, affiliated with Islam and Sikhism
    • tattoos or piercings, affiliated with Wicca
  • The Pentagon’s new policy seems pretty accommodating. “‘The military departments will accommodate individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs (conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs) of service members’ unless it might affect military readiness or unit cohesion, the updated policy on religious accommodation said.” Why do some some Sikhs remain wary about it?
    • The policy is enforced on a case-by-case basis, decided by individual commanders. Some groups worry “the updated policy does little to protect Sikhs and others from the whims of their commanders.”

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