The US military has just updated its regulations with the intent of improving the protection of military religious freedom.
Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 1300.17 was previously known as “Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services,” but is now re-titled simply “Religious Liberty in the Military Services” (PDF). The new DoDI title sets the tone for a policy that presupposes religious liberty, rather than treats it as an outlier that may sometimes be “accommodated.”
That change in tone mimics the tone change in religious liberty policies in the Air Force – which may not be a coincidence. The new DoDI was approved by Undersecretary of Defense Matthew Donovan – a former Air Force fighter pilot who has been both an Undersecretary of the Air Force and even the Acting Secretary of the Air Force in the past few years, during which the tenor (if not always the actions) of Air Force policy leaned toward religious freedom.
It seems President Trump’s selection of Undersecretary Donovan may have set the stage for improving religious liberty in the US military.
As to the DoDI itself, it notably Read more
The US Army extended its religious accommodation of Capt Simratpal Singh, a Soldier who had decided to return to his Sikh practices and had sued after the Army tried to subject him to additional testing not required of other Soldiers.
The response from the Army (PDF) is intended to moot the suit. The accommodation allowing Singh to wear his religious accoutrements is open-ended, but it is heavily qualified with the Army’s caveats that it might remove the accommodation at any time. Perhaps more importantly: Read more
Update: To answer one of the issues below, Berts has now said
He had practiced Islam throughout his Navy career, Berts said in a Jan. 7 phone interview, but had become more observant by early 2011.
“I celebrated Islamic holidays, I fasted during holidays, I prayed,” he said. “I started to get a deeper sense of faith and started to try to live my religion a bit more.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has filed a lawsuit (PDF) against the US Navy on behalf of Jon Berts, a former Sailor who was denied a request for a beard for his religious faith. Ordinarily, this might fall under the auspices of the other religious accommodation issues that have arisen this year, but there are several aspects of Berts’ story that are slightly unusual:
Jonathan Berts of Fairfield applied to wear a beard in January 2011, but Defense Department policy did not allow religious exemptions from grooming requirements…
First, the policy citation isn’t entirely true. It is true that DoDI 1300.17 (more here) didn’t characterize grooming standards as “apparel,” but it was still possible to obtain a waiver for a beard — as other members of the military did.
Second, note the date: Berts was honorably discharged Read more
In a little noted message in April, the US Marine Corps quietly tweaked their uniform policies. One of the changes dealt with the wear of religious items.
According to the Marine Times,
According to the changes announced in Marine administrative message 207/13, signed April 17, Marines may now wear:
– Articles of religious apparel that are not visible or apparent when worn with the uniform.
– Visible articles of religious apparel with the uniform while attending or conducting religious services or while in a chapel or other house of worship.
– Visible articles of religious apparel with the uniform, but only with special approval.
The Marine Times staff writer, James Sanborn, was in awe Read more
Students participating in the Army Junior ROTC high school program will now have more options when it comes to religious clothing in uniform. In October, Demin Zawity, a freshman at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, TN, was told she could not wear her Islamic headscarf while in the Army JROTC uniform. While that policy was consistent with the US Army policy, there was some consternation even by Army officials, some of whom called JROTC a “citizenship” program, not a military program.
Now CAIR, the group that originally accused the Army of discrimination, has said the DoD told them
the Department of Defense will now allow Muslim Read more
The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has said US Army JROTC uniform policies are discriminatory after Demin Zawity, a freshman at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, TN, was told she could not wear her Islamic headscarf while in the Army uniform.
There’s no reason for them to have a policy that excludes people such as Zawity, said Gadeir Abbas, a CAIR staff attorney. It paves the way to encourage all faiths to participate, he added.
While noble-sounding, Abbas’ statement was ignorant. JROTC programs are designed to be nearly identical to their ROTC and operational military equivalents — including following generally the same uniform rules. In this case, the JROTC rule accurately reflects US military policy (to which there have been some notable exceptions).
Abbas also made a misleading and potentially incendiary statement: Read more
According to local news reports, the debate between Weinstein and Sekulow at the Air Force Academy was “cordial.” Presumably, both sides are working on their after-action reports, as none have yet been published. According to the Fox report, Weinstein had demanded to speak at the Academy and the debate was the format the Academy agreed upon. The only content yet known about the debate includes Weinstein’s assertion that Jewish servicemen not be allowed to wear a yarmulke, while Sekulow maintained they should.* Weinstein also made known his intentions to file another lawsuit against the Air Force, this one including plaintiffs that have standing. The debate can be heard here.
*Neither Weinstein nor Sekulow were entirely correct about the yarmulke. While Rabbi Goldman did lose his lawsuit in 1986 in which he sued to wear the yarmulke, the 1988 (updated in 2003) version of Department of Defense Instruction 1300.17 specifically allows the wearing of a yarmulke. There are still “exceptions,” but the Jewish headgear is the only religious apparel specifically mentioned.