Sikh Coalition Applauds Change in Marines Facial Hair Policy
January 25, 2022 (Washington, DC) — In a positive step towards more inclusive and reasonable accommodations policies, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) announced late last week that they will no longer penalize Marines who have Pseudofolliculitis Barbae (PFB) for not shaving.
PFB is a medical condition that causes a rash on the face of individuals who shave; the condition is particularly common in African American and Latino men. The policy change is an update to Marine Corps Order 6310.1C, and it will take effect on January 31. In addition to not punishing, separating, or denying re-enlistment to Marines who are unable to shave due to PFB, the change grants medical officers the ability to give Marines temporary and permanent “no shave” chits. (“No shave” chits were previously only issued by commanders.)
“This willingness to accommodate facial hair for medical reasons is a critical step in the right direction for a more inclusive Marine Corps,” said Giselle Klapper, Sikh Coalition Senior Staff Attorney. “Facilitating these kinds of accommodations paves the way for the branch to move towards a similarly more forward-looking policy on religious accommodations, as has been done successfully already by the Army and Air Force.”
The Sikh Coalition and our partners have pushed to end religious discrimination across the U.S. military for more than 12 years. The Sikh Coalition has partnered with pro bono co-counsel at Winston & Strawn LLP and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in this work, and we also recognize the important efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union, BakerHostetler, and the Sikh American Veterans Alliance as well. We continue to work towards branch-by-branch policy improvements similar to those already achieved in the Army in 2017 and the USAF in 2020, including continued development of the U.S. Navy’s regulations and proactive change by the USMC, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Space Force.
“The Marine Corps is making the right decision to expand access to ‘no shave’ exemptions with this policy change,” said Amandeep S. Sidhu, partner at Winston & Strawn LLP. “We’ve seen more than 100 Sikh Soldiers and Airmen serve honorably with religious accommodations alone, and thousands of other servicemembers–of a wide variety of races and religions–are able to to serve equally capably with other uniform and grooming accommodations.”
The Sikh Coalition continues to engage the U.S. Marine Corps on the issue of religious accommodations for articles of faith, including for our client First Lieutenant Sukhbir Singh Toor. 1stLt Toor was granted an incomplete and insufficient accommodation by the Department of the Navy last year; the accommodation recognizes his right to maintain his Sikh articles of faith, but still imposed unacceptable restrictions on his religious exercise.