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Soldier allowed to have a beard because of his Norse Pagan faith

Instructors with the 14th Military Police Brigade demonstrate proper room clearing techniques to explorers during the Bi-Annual National Law Enforcement Explorers Academy. A member of the brigade at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. has been granted religious accommodation to have a beard because of his of the Norse Pagan faith.

VALERIE COLLINS/U.S. ARMY

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 26, 2018

First the Sikhs. Now the Pagans.

A member of the Norse Pagan Faith, serving in the 795th Military Police Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., has been granted permission to wear a beard under a 2017 Army policy directive which makes it easier for soldiers to receive exemptions from grooming and appearance regulations if they conflict with their religious beliefs.

“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 provided in Army regulation (AR) 670-1,” said a memo signed by Col. Curtis M. Shroeder, commander of the 14th Military Police Brigade.

The 2017 policy changed allowed brigade-level commanders to authorize the exemption based on religious grounds – and with some limits on the length and appearance of the beard.

A copy of the memo circulated on social media with the soldier’s name redacted. Fort Leonard Wood spokeswoman Tiffany Wood confirmed the authenticity of the memo to Army Times.

The 2017 change to Army Regulation 670-1 was authorized by then-Army Secretary Eric Fanning, mostly to accommodate observant Sikhs, whose religion requires adult males to wear beards, and conservative Muslim women who must wear head coverings under tenets of their faith.

“The soldier’s brigade-level commander will approve a request for a religious accommodation … unless the commander determines the request is not based on a sincerely held religious belief, or identifies a specific, concrete hazard that is not specifically addressed in this directive and that cannot be mitigated by reasonable measures,” Fanning wrote.

However, the directive didn’t stipulate which religions were covered by the exemptions. Nor did the directive differentiate between mandatory requirements – such as Sikh men wearing beards – and customary practices – such as wearing apparel in other faiths.
According to the Open Halls Project, an advocacy group for heathens serving in the military, the beard is a tradition, but not a requirement.

“There is no religious requirement for beards in Heathenry,” said an April 2017 post on the Open Halls Project website. “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.”

Heathenry is a religious movement based on pre-Christian belief systems of Germanic peoples in early Medieval Europe. Their communities exist in the United States, Europe and Australia.

In March of 2017, the Pentagon expanded its list of recognized faith groups to include among others atheists, agnostics, shaman, humanist and pagan.

The Hammer of Thor, the emblem of the Norse Pagan Faith, is authorized for military headstones.
 

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