Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Land of the free, home of the beards?

The U.S. Armed Forces are moving in the right direction. According to news reports late last week, the Army will allow Menachem Stern—an orthodox Jewish Rabbi—to attend military chaplaincy training without shaving his religiously-mandated beard. Although significant barriers remain in place for religious minorities wishing to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, the Army’s acceptance of Rabbi Stern is a positive development.
And it is welcome news to the Sikh community. In April 2009, more than 60 years after President Harry Truman issued an executive order promising equal opportunity “for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin,” Sikh Americans challenged restrictive Army appearance regulations(adopted during the Reagan administration) that effectively prohibited turbaned, bearded Sikhs from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
For Sikhs, this prohibition made no sense in light of the Sikh reputation for martial prowess. Over three centuries ago, in the face of persecution by Mogul and Afghan invaders, the founders of the Sikh religion encouraged their disciples to inculcate the qualities of saints and soldiers (sant-sipahi), including adherence to a code of discipline that requires adherents to wear a visible uniform consisting of a turban and uncut hair. Consistent with Sikh religious teachings, these articles are inseparable constituents of Sikh religious identity, signifying a commitment to upholding freedom, justice, and dignity for all people.
Generation after generation, inspired by their religious faith and martial heritage, Sikhs have served in the U.S. Army since World War I; sacrificed their lives by the thousands for the Allies during both World Wars; produced several Victoria Cross recipients in the British Army, where they can still freely serve with distinction; and accepted the surrender of Pakistani forces on behalf of the Indian Army, which, until recently, was led by a Sikh general.
with thanks : washington post : link in headline above for detailed news report.

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