The Application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to Appearance Regulations that Presumptively Prohibit Observant Sikh Lawyers from Joining the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps
28 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2008 Last revised: 8 Apr 2008
Observant Sikh lawyers are presumptively prohibited from joining the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps because they cannot satisfy the Army's appearance regulations. This essay argues that this presumptive prohibition violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Under RFRA, the federal government may substantially burden an individual's exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that its application of the burden furthers a compelling governmental interest by the least restrictive means. The Army's appearance regulations are designed to promote two interests: uniformity and safety. In the course of furthering these interests, the Army's appearance regulations effectively preclude observant Sikhs from joining the U.S. Army JAG Corps. The Sikh religion requires its male followers to wear turbans and forbids all of its followers from cutting their hair. Both requirements purportedly interfere with the Army's asserted interests in uniformity and safety. This purported interference forms the basis for a conclusion that observant Sikhs are appropriately excluded from joining the U.S. Army JAG Corps. This essay argues against the necessity of such a conclusion by demonstrating that under RFRA (1) the Army does not have a compelling interest in disallowing exceptions to its appearance regulations, and (2) the Army's appearance regulations do not constitute the least restrictive means of promoting safety. Because the Army's appearance regulations violate RFRA, they must be amended to allow for the accommodation of observant Sikhs in the U.S. Army JAG Corps.
Keywords: Sikh, Sikhism, Military, Army, Religion, RFRA, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Law
JEL Classification: H56, K1, K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation