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Author Topic: Religious Symbols in the Army  (Read 1364 times)

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Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Religious Symbols in the Army
« on: January 30, 2014, 12:35:09 PM »
My other roommate and I were having a discussion too. This other roommate is in the army recruitment program at my school, ROTC, and so he had a sort of personal investment in our debate.

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/22/22376938-pentagon-to-relax-rules-on-personal-religious-wear-including-beards-turbans

That is the article on the issue that started our talk. It didn't go very far, so I was wondering if it could continue here.

Presenting the two points of view:

His Point: People in the army serve the American people; they are not technically citizens, and do not have full citizen rights Furthermore, in order to be an effective soldier and servant to the American people, there should ideally be uniformity among the U.S. Army; religious symbols detract from this uniformity.

My Point: The U.S. army has more than one purpose. Beyond the fact that it serves the people, it also must represent United States ideals, insofar as they do not clash with their ability to serve. Small religious objects, such as turbans or crucifixes, should be allowed as they represent the United States ideal of religious freedom.

Those are two points we made, summarized. The question is: Should religion be allowed into the army? How? To what extent? If not, why?

Offline Neysha

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2014, 07:27:56 PM »
As long as it doesn't drastically interfere with their duties as a soldier, I don't see why having reasonable facial hair would be too much of a detriment. Allowances are already made for other things, with limitations, such as tattoos, women are allowed longer hair and different physical standards, there was a repeal of DADT for alternative sexual orientations, etc. Obviously there would be some issues, but if wearing a turban (or other legitimate religious attire) won't interfere with the donning of a helmet, or communications gear, or a gasmask, I don't see why that wouldn't be permitted as well.

And American soldiers are still citizens (well most of them anyways).
« Last Edit: January 30, 2014, 07:29:43 PM by Neysha »

Offline Valthazar

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Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2014, 07:34:24 PM »
Quote
According to Defense Department statistics, which are based solely on self-reporting, there are only a handful of Sikh Americans in the military (about 3).

Can anyone confirm if this quote from the article is accurate?

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2014, 07:43:50 PM »
Can anyone confirm if this quote from the article is accurate?

http://www.sikhcoalition.org/army-campaign/sikhs-in-the-us-army/

Only the top three seem to be actively serving; the rest have been discharged or are retired.

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2014, 07:45:11 PM »
I take it back. From what I can see, there are at least three serving directly in the army, with others either retired, discharged, or serving the country under different capacities.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2014, 08:11:25 PM »
Religion is already in the armed forces (especially foxholes).  There have been chaplains assigned to combat units for generations, and they are trained to take into account a wide variety of religious beliefs, including (nowadays) less-mainstream faiths such as Wicca.  There are tombstones in Arlington that now have the pentagram emblazoned on them as a symbol of the deceased's faith.  As long as the strictures of one's religion do not impact one's ability to perform one's duties, religion does not need to be restricted.  (Neither does lack of religion, but atheists and agnostics generally don't seem to have any particular requirements to follow.)

Offline Kythia

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Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2014, 08:18:06 PM »
"Sikh American" is a weird phrase as well.  I've always thought the x-American (African-, Chinese-, whatever)was an uncomfortable and odd phrasing but extending it to a religious group, even one with such strong ties to a particular region, seems to serve little purpose.

Offline greenknight

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Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2014, 08:54:10 PM »
His Point: People in the army serve the American people; they are not technically citizens, and do not have full citizen rights
BLUF: Your roommate's wrong. If he doesn't understand this, he needs to reevaluate mental reservations and purposes of evasion. If he has no idea what I'm talking about, that's a bigger issue. Choosing discretion in exercising a right to maintain a clear distinction between yourself and your apolitical profession persona does not mean you lose those rights. 

(FWIW, ROTC is not a recruitment program. It is an officer training program. Participants have already been recruited.)

In intent, I don't have a problem with this. In practice, there will be a considerably unequal impact. As decisions rest with individual commanders, some will be more or less strict and some commands will have more less stringent operational requirements. Similarly, all soldiers are expected to be available for deployment and assignment around the world. What stance will the government take regarding soldiers assigned to places where quality X is not acceptable (kirpans, same sex spouses, etc)? (We all know what the should is, the question is will.)

My cynical self wonders why, in a time when ~80,000 soldiers must be drawn down in two years (with similar proportions in the other services), standards are relaxed. These are self-discriminators, ie, conditions that will keep someone from wanting to enlist or stay after an initial enlistment.

Offline Iniquitous

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2014, 10:46:15 PM »
Quote
”….The question is: Should religion be allowed into the army? How? To what extent? If not, why?”

As was already mentioned above, religion is already in the military. Matter of fact, the United States Army Chaplain Corp has been active since July 29, 1775. A chaplain’s purpose is to offer religious services, counseling and moral support to the armed forces.

Just because a person makes the decision to join the armed forces (or in cases in the past, drafted into service) does not mean they lose their right to religious freedom. They still have the right to pursue their religious beliefs. There are even those faiths that are exempt from ever being drafted due to the fact that their religious beliefs does not allow them to participate and they are documented as Conscientious Objectors. If you were to remove all religion from the military, you would then be forced to disregard those that are Conscientious Objectors.

But I digress.

Religion is a deeply personal matter. To try and dictate that service to your country denies you the right to your own religious beliefs is akin to trying to dictate that everyone in the country has to follow the same religion. (Check history - that stance didn’t work so well for countries like France and England.)

The how of your question doesn’t make sense. Are you thinking it should be restructured? I think it is perfect, or as close as it can be, right now. The US is acknowledging other faiths beyond the Abrahamic faiths, they are allowing soldiers to have “alternate” religions on their dog tags and, as was pointed out above, there are now headstones with the pentagram in Arlington. It seems logical that this step is being taken to recognize that some religions require certain things (beards, turbans) and that some feel it is necessary to keep religious jewelry on their body.

Of course, if you read the article, it states that this is not going to be a “ok, yep - if it’s your religion you’re good to go.” The person has to be given permission from his/her command to allow them - and in some cases the company commander may kick it higher up the chain if he/she feels the need to.

I do not see this as a controversy. It makes sense - as long as it doesn’t interfere with the proper function of equipment and protective clothing, it doesn’t cause a problem with unit cohesion and the needs of the mission accomplishment are not put at risk.

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2014, 11:34:43 PM »
I apologize for my ignorance of these matters; I have had but a cursory meeting with them. That being said, I will try to clarify a few things.

Firstly, I would like to offer another apology to greenknight for my ignorance of these matters; sorry, I should have probably talked to my roommate more about the program. He just did get contracted last week, so yay for him!

More on topic: By "how", I mean, what aspects of religion should be allowed? The main controversy I see (the one that we argued over) would be with how the difference in religions and allowing different aspects (some religions have more restrictions than others) might result in inequality. Therefore, how would we regulate the allowance of religion to ensure that there is still equality.


Offline Iniquitous

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #10 on: January 30, 2014, 11:40:51 PM »
Ok, this is probably going to come out wrong but I will see if I can explain it.

There is such a push for equality - and I am a firm supporter of equality in all forms. I just do not see how you think there will be an inequality should Jewish soldiers be allowed to wear a yarmulke, a Sikh be allowed his unshorn hair and turban, a Christian allowed his crucifix/rosary beads, etc. It would be equal across the board. All the soldier in question has to do is ask their company commander for permission.

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #11 on: January 30, 2014, 11:46:18 PM »
Yes, now, from here, we go to the "to what extent", which is what my roommate brought up. If we allow religious observations such as these, then what about religious holidays? What about days for fasting or days of rest or other such things? Where do we stop giving them the things associated with their religion?

Offline Kythia

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Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #12 on: January 30, 2014, 11:51:44 PM »
You know what Kythia's fourth rule of debate is?  I'll tell you.

Quote
Any argument that can be prefixed with the phrase "Yes, but where do you draw the line?" can be dismissed out of hand.

You stop giving "them" things to do with their religion at the point that would interfere with their ability to do their job.

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #13 on: January 30, 2014, 11:56:36 PM »
That is basically what I said.

I was just curious if anyone else would support the other side. This is something I have little experience with; I was just wondering if anyone else would find it interesting. It caused a ruckus on this one person's Facebook, apparently.

Offline Iniquitous

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #14 on: January 30, 2014, 11:58:36 PM »
I agree with Kythia. There is a point where their ability to do their job will be impacted and it is at that point that the line is drawn.

Again, if you read the full article you linked, it even states that permission is left up to the commanders and they will base their permission upon whether it will affect their ability to do their job properly (wear their gear properly) and whether it will affect unit cohesion negatively. That is the line they are drawing, and it is a reasonable line.

Offline TorterrableTopic starter

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #15 on: January 31, 2014, 12:08:41 AM »
Well, if that is the general consensus, than that is great. Still, an article like that would not be debated if there were people who did not disagree, but I am glad that all who are here agree, more or less, on the terms of introducing religion to the army.

Offline Lost Boy

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #16 on: January 31, 2014, 01:11:30 AM »
I would argue that uniformity is deeper than appearances, do all soldiers have to be the same height, have the same hair colour or hair style? Do they all have to be a specific build? This is actually what you tend to see in not so free countries like North Korea and China.

Uniformity could be a much deeper case where soldiers of different religions or religious denominations or in fact atheists can each hold their belief and yet still work as an effective unit in a time of war against an enemy who may actually have a similar religion or even be that soldiers ancestral homeland.

The Uniformity of holding that belief in actual freedom is far more powerful and useful than everyone being the same.

As long as you don't have those religious groups refusing to do certain tasks or working on certain days which will obviously bring the whole thing down. You will find as stated by other posters that religion has always been a part of the military and even if all Christian for example you would still have different branches of that religion making the soldiers differ from one and another.

Lets not forget that these people are willing to kill and die for their country, I doubt they would be so keen if you said they had to abandon their religion. 

Offline Valthazar

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Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #17 on: January 31, 2014, 02:42:29 AM »
It is probably worth mentioning that Sikhs have a long military history.  They are culturally known in India as being brave and fierce warriors, who defended their region of Punjab.

I agree with other posters here - but to play devil's advocate, I can see what Torterrable means by "to what extent."

For example, many Sikhs carry a dagger-like kirpan as one of their five articles of faith.  Naturally, this would pose some issues in the US military.

Offline greenknight

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Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #18 on: January 31, 2014, 03:04:16 AM »
Yes, now, from here, we go to the "to what extent", which is what my roommate brought up. If we allow religious observations such as these, then what about religious holidays? What about days for fasting or days of rest or other such things? Where do we stop giving them the things associated with their religion?
Your roommate wants to command, right? Considering he has just contracted, he'll be wanting a company around the time I'm in battalion command. Asking the question the way you've reported it to us is enough to make me question his aptitude just on the merits of rhetorical ability, nevermind the opinions that may be behind the question. Even my much less liberal peers would agree with that judgment.

It breaks down like this. The current rule is, if it's not visible in a service uniform (like a crucifix on a chain), it's good to go. If you need time for a religious observance and it doesn't conflict with mission accomplishment or require significant travel, you get it. If you need specific expendables (candles and such) or assistance with a worship site (using part of the training area for a circle, for example), the chaplaincy may even be able to support that.

What's on the table is allowing commanders discretion in approving exceptions to policy to allow religious displays that are visible in a service uniform. As they don't identify at what level commanders can make this decision, company commanders, captains, will potentially have this authority. This could have the same type of unintentional discrimination discussed in the zero tolerance thread. One Sikh soldier is assigned to a sustainment command and his commander doesn't assess an impact to his unshorn hair and conservative turban. Another is in an infantry company and his hair would be an impediment to wearing his helmet (and protective mask if his command is concerned with that threat). Or a commander could just be a hard-on and deny all requests for accommodation out of hand. If we go down this road, expect to see intermittent accusations of discrimination while the actual balance between accommodation and mission works itself out.

Offline greenknight

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Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #19 on: January 31, 2014, 03:14:23 AM »
For example, many Sikhs carry a dagger-like kirpan as one of their five articles of faith.  Naturally, this would pose some issues in the US military.
FWIW A common, and admittedly racially charged, joke in my previous life was that more soldiers carry knives, constantly, than Mexicans or Puerto Ricans. (The racial/st stereotype being that people of these ethnicities will always pull a knife in a fight....) At any time, in a platoon of 30 scouts, you could probably find at least 75 knives, including the auto-opener and multitool the platoon leader probably had on him. In the field, fuggedaboudit. I haven't been without without a blade on my person for almost 20 years and I have a break in service when I went to college. No, constantly carrying a knife isn't an issue in the US military.

Offline meikle

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #20 on: January 31, 2014, 09:36:56 AM »
You can't be a US Army chaplain if you're an atheist.

meikle's insight on the military's religious tendencies.

Offline Neysha

Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #21 on: January 31, 2014, 10:26:04 AM »
There's currently a lot of discussion on creating Humanist Chaplains. IIRC there was a bill about it but some Republicans had a kneejerk response to the idea.
« Last Edit: January 31, 2014, 10:29:39 AM by Neysha »

Offline Valthazar

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Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #22 on: January 31, 2014, 10:36:05 AM »
IIRC there was a bill about it but some Republicans had a kneejerk response to the idea.

That's a shame, seems like a good idea to me.

Offline greenknight

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Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #23 on: January 31, 2014, 01:58:43 PM »
Just like other officers commissioned based on professional credentials, chaplains have to be accredited by a current church, one meeting the gummint's definition, and abide by the restrictions of the chaplaincy. (I think the last is a bigger sticking point for some of the neo-pagan faiths.) Is there a similar body for humanists?

Offline Oniya

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Re: Religious Symbols in the Army
« Reply #24 on: January 31, 2014, 02:05:53 PM »
Does ULC count as a current church?  Most of my non-mainstream ministerial friends go that route.