Finalised on February 7, the new Air Force policy establishes clear grooming and uniform standards for enlisted and officer airmen who are granted accommodations based on their sincerely held religious beliefs.
The policy also clarifies that O-6 level commanders can approve an airman's request for such accommodation in no more than 30 days (or 60 days if the accommodation is requested outside of the US), and that an accommodation, once granted, will generally follow the airman throughout his or her career.
While there are certain limited circumstances under which a religious accommodation may not be permissible due to safety considerations, the policy appears to be otherwise comprehensive, Sikh Coalition said in a statement.
"No Sikh-American should have to choose between their religious beliefs and their career ambitions," said Giselle Klapper, Sikh Coalition staff attorney.
"Sikhs have served honourably and capably in the US Armed Forces and other militaries around the world, and while we are eager for a blanket proclamation that all observant Sikh-Americans can serve in every branch of the military without seeking accommodations, this policy clarification is a great step forward towards ensuring equality of opportunity and religious freedom in the Air Force," Klapper said.
The Air Force's clarification closely resembles the US Army's landmark 2017 policy adjustment, which similarly clarified the terms and process for soldiers requesting religious accommodations.
"Both of these policy changes are the direct result of the years-long campaign, launched in 2009 by the Sikh Coalition and our pro bono co-counsel at McDermott Will and Emery, that has included extensive advocacy efforts and litigation to ensure that observant Sikhs and other religious minorities are able to serve without compromising their faith," the Sikh Coalition said in a statement.
According to the Sikh Coalition, Airman 1st Class Gurchetan Singh is the first Sikh-American to receive an accommodation to serve in the Air National Guard. Singh's accommodation was approved in September 2019, and he will soon head to Basic and Technical Training with a specialty in Cyber Transport Systems.
"The Sikh Coalition has helped me realize my career dream while ensuring that I stay true to myself and my faith.
"Their legal assistance means that I won't face discrimination as I step up to serve, and I'm proud to help clear the way for other Sikhs who may want to join the US Air Force by demonstrating that we can serve honourably while maintaining our articles of faith," he said in a statement.
To date, the Sikh Coalition has helped more than 20 Sikh-Americans secure accommodations to serve in the US military.