Army Grants Religious Accommodation for Pagan Beard

Update: Now widely covered at various sites, though they don’t name US Army Soldier Austin Harasti.

The Army Times reports that a Soldier at the 14th Military Police Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, has been granted a religious accommodation to wear a beard — because he is a “Norse pagan.” From Col Curtis Shroeder’s memo to the 795th Military Police Battalion Soldier [emphasis added]:

“In observance of your Heathen; Norse Pagan faith, you may wear a beard, in accordance with Army uniform and grooming standards for soldiers with approved religious accommodations.”

Interestingly, there is no tenet of “Norse pagan faith” that requires a beard, as a heathen-advocacy site pointed out. As quoted in the article:

According to the Open Halls Project, an advocacy group for heathens serving in the military, the beard is a beloved tradition, but not a requirement.

“There is no religious requirement for beards in Heathenry,” according to a 2017 post about beards. “…We, as Heathens, have no such religious requirement with regards to hair.”

In essence, this is the same as a Christian seeking a waiver for a beard because Jesus had one.  That said, Army policy is to, by default, grant the accommodation so long as it is consistent with a sincerely held religious belief and doesn’t interfere with the mission.

Fair enough.

The US military’s emphasis on religious accommodation was supposed to have hit a high water mark in 2014, when military policies were rewritten in response to laws passed in Congress requiring the US military to proactively protect religious freedom. However, even at the time those policies were criticized for focusing too much on hair and clothing, while the laws were about religious expression (beyond physical appearance).

In that vein, note that in the same Army in which a pagan is granted an exception to regulations to wear a religious beard, a Christian is recommended for reprimand after complying with Army regulations regarding support to homosexuals.  See Chaplain Scott Squires, and in the Air Force Col Leland Bohannon.

Where’s the consistency?

Sure, accommodate the pagan’s beard by not requiring him to contravene his “religious” beliefs by shaving. And accommodate other service members by not requiring them to contravene their religious beliefs by affirming homosexual “marriages.” That was the point of the law written by Congress, after all — and it is within Congress’ power to regulate the armed forces.

The article notes the Soldier’s name has been redacted from the “undated” circulating memo — but it doesn’t appear the Soldier himself is trying to remain anonymous. Almost exactly a year ago, US Army Soldier Austin Harasti detailed his journey to get a religious accommodation by the Army for his Norse pagan practices.  His request ultimately led to his commander authorizing a beard up to two inches in length. Harasti mentioned the approval was a direct result of the Army policy issued in 2017, which was intended to lower the approval level for religious accommodation and grant permanent waivers to Sikhs, Jews, and others.  Harasti publicly stated he’s stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, and, as an active duty Soldier, sports a short, red beard.

As an aside, there’s no word from Mikey Weinstein yet, but there’s no reason to think he’ll object to Harasti’s pagan beard — despite the fact he would object to any Christian who so blatantly wore a public expression of their religious faith.