For Immediate Release

Primary Press Contact: Graham F. West
Media and Communications Director, the Sikh Coalition, 817-800-8873

Secondary Press Contact: Rajanpreet Kaur
Media and Communications Manager, the Sikh Coalition, 732-823-9266

 Historic U.S. Navy Policy Change Creates Pathway for Religious Accommodations, Requires Further Clarification

March 19, 2020 -- The United States Navy has implemented a new policy that clarifies the process and terms of uniform and grooming accommodations for religious minorities, including observant Sikh Americans, who wish to serve. While the policy is a step forward from previous rules and regulations, key questions remain.

Finalized on March 16, the new policy improves upon previous Navy regulations by allowing for unconcealed religious headwear for the first time ever, and it clarifies the approval process for accommodations for beards of any length. However, due to a lack of clarity on the permanence of religious accommodations in certain circumstances and specific duty types, the Sikh Coalition will continue engaging with the Navy to understand the full scope of this updated policy and the opportunity it provides.

“We are appreciative that the U.S. Navy has taken a step forward in securing accommodations for observant Sikh Americans who wish to serve with their religious articles of faith,” said Giselle Klapper, Sikh Coalition Staff Attorney. “However, we have outstanding questions and concerns about the durability of these accommodations and the extent to which they allow service in all Navy job environments. We look forward to continuing our conversations with Navy leadership to ensure that observant Sikhs have true equality of opportunity in pursuing careers in the Navy.”

The Navy’s announcement comes shortly after a clarification of uniform and grooming accommodations from the U.S. Air Force last month; that change, and the landmark 2017 policy change in the U.S. Army, were much clearer in establishing easily secured and permanent accommodations for Sikh soldiers and airmen. The Sikh Coalition and our pro bono co-counsel at McDermott Will & Emery have been working towards these and other policy changes since 2009. Together, we have helped more than 20 Sikh Americans in the U.S. Army and Air Force secure their accommodations. The broader advocacy work in this campaign has ensured that more than 60 observant Sikh Americans total are able to serve--both with distinction, and with their articles of faith.

The Sikh Coalition will continue to engage the Navy as we seek clarifications on this policy development. Additionally, we are continuing to work towards branch-by-branch policy clarifications similar to those from the Army and Air Force, as well as broader changes across the U.S. Armed Forces. Our goal remains ending religious discrimination by our nation’s largest employer, the U.S. Department of Defense, which will in turn be critical to fighting discrimination in workplaces across the country.

The Sikh Coalition continues to build on more than ten years of work to ensure equality of opportunity and religious freedom for Sikhs and other religious minorities who wish to serve in the U.S. military. To learn more about this campaign, previous policy changes in the Army and Air Force, or the new Navy policy change--or to be connected with former clients or other organizations involved with this work--please contact Graham West or Rajanpreet Kaur.