The Pentagon has approved a new policy that will allow US troops to seek waivers to wear religious clothing or request specific prayer times.
The new policy took effect yesterday, and the waivers will be decided on a case-by-case basis, according to defence officials.
Approval of the waiver will depend on where the service member is stationed and whether the change would affect military readiness or the mission.
Under the new policy, a request can only be denied if it is decided that the needs of the military mission outweigh the needs of the service member.
Until now there has been no consistent policy across the military services to allow accommodations for religion.
Now, for example, Jewish troops will be able to seek a waiver to wear a yarmulke, or Sikhs can seek waivers to wear a turban and grow a beard.
Others can request specific prayer times or ask that they be allowed to carry prayer beads or other items.
If the waiver involves something that violates the service’s policy governing troops’ uniforms or appearance – including tattoos, beards and clothing – then the decision is made by a senior officer, probably the three-star general in charge of personnel for each service.
If it involves something else, such as prayer time, the decision can be made by a unit commander.