The Army’s religious exemption allowing beards, originally created for devout Sikh members, was for the first time applied to a soldier who identifies as a Norse pagan — also called a “Heathen.”
The U.S. Army first allowed soldiers with relevant religious beliefs to wear a beard early last year, in response to a lawsuit and regular petitions from Sikh soldiers, but they’re now expanding the list of who that rule can apply to:
“I grant your accommodation, subject to the standards and limitations described below,” commander Col. Curtis Shroeder wrote to a 795th Military Police Battalion soldier, whose name is redacted from a copy of the memo circulating on Facebook.
“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.”
Per the latest version of AR 670-1, beards with approved accommodations must be less than 2 inches long, measured from the bottom of the chin, and cannot be groomed with any petroleum-based products.
This is an especially interesting move for the Army because there is a real difference between these two religions and their grooming requirements. For Sikhs a beard is required as part of the faith, while for those who identify as heathens it is merely preferred.
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. “Sikhs are allowed to wear beards and turbans because it actually is a religious requirement of their faith that they do so. Kesh, or ‘uncut hair’ is one of the five religious requirements of baptized Sikhs. We, as Heathens, have no such religious requirement with regards to hair.”
This move could have larger implications, too.
If beards are acceptable for heathens, who aren’t even required by doctrine to have unshaven faces, then this could be a symbol of a larger shift in strictness of the Army’s grooming standards. (Could it only be a matter of time before a Pastafarian is allowed to wear a strainer on her head?)
And if someone’s religion is good enough reason to allow a beard only on the basis of preference, what about someone else’s reasoning that he just feels more comfortable with one? Or that his spouse prefers it? Or that they feel more intimidating with one? How come those reasons aren’t acceptable while “My religion says it’s a good idea” gets a pass?
If grooming standards are flexible enough to accommodate religious preferences, then it’s going to be much harder for the Army to reject other valid arguments for having beards.
(Image via Shutterstock)