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April 4, 2014 Off

Coalition Promotes Expanded Religious Accommodation In The Military

On Jan­u­ary 22, 2014 the Depart­ment of Defense (DoD) pub­lished an updated and revised Instruc­tion 1300.17–Accommodation of Reli­gious Prac­tices Within the Mil­i­tary Ser­vicesThe new guid­ance, which describes pol­icy, pro­ce­dures, and respon­si­bil­i­ties for the accom­mo­da­tion of reli­gious prac­tices in the Armed Forces, was designed “to ensure the pro­tec­tion of rights of con­science of mem­bers of the Armed Forces.”  The updated guid­ance sought to strike the proper bal­ance between mil­i­tary readi­ness and reli­gious free­dom for ser­vice mem­bers.   But it fell short in not pro­vid­ing a suf­fi­cient accom­mo­da­tion for some fun­da­men­tal aspects of minor­ity reli­gious practice.  120407-M-KX613-023.jpg

For exam­ple, the guid­ance lays out a for­mal process so that Jew­ish and Sikh sol­diers may request an accom­mo­da­tion for their required head cov­er­ings (a kip­pah or a tur­ban) and incor­po­rates groom­ing stan­dards that pro­vide a path for approval for beards.   How­ever, each sol­dier must still request an indi­vid­ual, case-by-case accom­mo­da­tion under the guid­ance – a daunt­ing and stress­ful prospect for some, with an uncer­tain out­come.   In the name of “…main­tain­ing uni­form mil­i­tary groom­ing and appear­ance stan­dards,” the effect is to exclude some indi­vid­u­als who would oth­er­wise wel­come the oppor­tu­nity to serve their coun­try in the military.  

In Jan­u­ary, the House Armed Ser­vices Sub­com­mit­tee on Mil­i­tary Per­son­nel held hear­ings on reli­gious accom­mo­da­tions in the mil­i­tary. ADL, the Sikh Coali­tion, and the ACLU, (among oth­ers) raised this issue in their state­ments.  And Holly Holl­man, Gen­eral Coun­sel for the Bap­tist Joint Com­mit­tee on Reli­gious Lib­erty, artic­u­lately described  the del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act fac­ing the mil­i­tary in address­ing reli­gious lib­erty concerns. 

Impor­tantly, more than 100 Mem­bers of Con­gress have weighed in on reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion in the mil­i­tary in a let­ter to the Pen­ta­gon, coor­di­nated by Rep. Joseph Crow­ley (D-NY).   

And this week ADL, the Sikh Coali­tion, and the ACLU coor­di­nated a let­ter to the Pen­ta­gon from an unusu­ally broad coali­tion of twenty-one national groups with real reli­gious lib­erty cre­den­tials and sub­ject mat­ter exper­tise.  The inter­faith coali­tion let­ter stated that the cur­rent guid­ance “need­lessly infringe on the rights of these reli­giously obser­vant ser­vice mem­bers and prospec­tive ser­vice mem­bers” and urged the Pen­ta­gon to fine-tune the Instruc­tion to bet­ter accom­mo­date reli­gious practices. 

The same com­mand struc­ture that pro­vides unique pres­sure to con­form within the mil­i­tary – and poten­tial for inap­pro­pri­ate pros­e­ly­tiz­ing and reli­gious coer­cion – also makes the direct involve­ment of the Pentagon’s lead­er­ship in pro­mot­ing effec­tive, uni­form guid­ance and solu­tions to this prob­lem crit­i­cally important. 

The sig­na­to­ries to the coali­tion let­ter are: 

Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee (AJC). Amer­i­cans United for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State, Anti-Defamation League, Bap­tist Joint Com­mit­tee for Reli­gious Lib­erty, Becket Fund for Reli­gious Lib­erty, Chap­lain Alliance for Reli­gious Lib­erty, Chris­t­ian Legal Soci­ety, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Epis­co­pal Church, Forum on the Mil­i­tary Chap­laincy, Gen­eral Con­fer­ence of Seventh-day Adven­tists, Inter­faith Alliance, Mus­lim Advo­cates, National Coun­cil of Jew­ish Women, Sikh Amer­i­can Legal Defense and Edu­ca­tion Fund (SALDEF), Sikh Coali­tion, South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Together (SAALT), United Methodist Church, Gen­eral Board of Church and Soci­ety, Union of Ortho­dox Jew­ish Con­gre­ga­tions of Amer­ica, Union for Reform Judaism

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February 5, 2013 Off

Religious Accommodation for Sikh Corrections Officer

Last week, respond­ing to appeals by The Sikh Coali­tion and ADL, the Ari­zona Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions agreed to allow a reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion for Ikhbinder Bassin, a ten-year employee of the Depart­ment and an obser­vant Sikh. 

As part of his reli­gious oblig­a­tions, Mr. Bassin does not cut his hair (includ­ing facial hair) and wears a kara (a reli­giously man­dated steel bracelet).  Upon his entry into his posi­tion in 2003, Mr. Bassin was granted a waiver from depart­men­tal pol­icy that pro­hibits the wear­ing of bracelets (other than for med­ical pur­poses) and from shear­ing his hair.  How­ever, in Decem­ber of 2012, close to his 10th anniver­sary, when Mr. Bassin would appar­ently become eli­gi­ble for extended employee ben­e­fits, he was noti­fied by a com­pli­ance offi­cer that he was not in com­pli­ance with Ari­zona Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions pol­icy.  The com­pli­ance offi­cer advised Mr. Bassin that he must com­ply or face pos­si­ble ter­mi­na­tion or reas­sign­ment into a non-uniform position.

Act­ing on Mr. Bassin’s behalf, The Sikh Coali­tion noti­fied the Depart­ment that under fed­eral and state law, includ­ing the First Amend­ment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Arizona’s Free Exer­cise of Reli­gion Act, ter­mi­nat­ing or demot­ing Mr. Bassin for his reli­gious beliefs would vio­late the Department’s oblig­a­tions under the law.

With time run­ning out, and lit­tle indi­ca­tion that his reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion would be granted, Mr. Bassin reached out to ADL and other orga­ni­za­tions to advo­cate that his reli­gious rights be accom­mo­dated.  Fol­low­ing a con­sul­ta­tion with The Sikh Coali­tion, ADL endorsed their efforts, address­ing a let­ter to a vari­ety of Ari­zona gov­ern­ment stake­hold­ers. The League noti­fied these gov­ern­ment offi­cials that we agreed with The Sikh Coalition’s legal analy­sis, and urged a reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion for Mr. Bassin.  ADL’s Ari­zona regional office also signed on to an inter­faith coali­tion let­ter sup­port­ing Mr. Bassin’s request.  These coali­tion efforts paid off.

By grant­ing Mr. Bassin the requested accom­mo­da­tion, the Ari­zona Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions demon­strated a wel­come respect for fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of reli­gious lib­erty. When sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions arise else­where, other Depart­ments should fol­low Arizona’s lead.

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