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A lawyer who specializes in religious liberty cases has expressed approval of the Defense Department's recently announced new policy on religious grooming for military personnel.
Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told The Christian Post that the Wednesday announcement by the Pentagon was a "good step."
"We think that it's a very good step in that it incorporates, for instance, much of the language from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which applies to the federal government," said Blomberg.
"We also think it's good that the military is acting on Section 533 of the 2013 [National Defense Authorization Act and] going ahead and getting those regulations out there."
Blomberg also told CP that the Becket Fund was "still in the process of analyzing" the language of the changes, but that it was "overall definitely a good first step."
"There is a fantastic history of religious liberty in the military," said Blomberg, adding that the "chaplain corps itself is a testimony to the military's commitment to protecting service members' religious liberty."
"I think there are some very legitimate concerns about some issues of rapid social change and just some other types of matters that require the military to update and improve and build on its traditions of protecting religious liberty."
Blomberg's remarks came in response to a recent announcement by the Defense Department that United States armed forces personnel will have more liberty as to specific religious grooming.
The new policy is expected to especially affect religious sects like Judaism and Sikhism, wherein religious garments and certain hair styles are an integral part of their religious practice and belief.
LCDR Nate Christensen, spokesman for the Department of Defense, explained to CP that requests will be on a "case-by-case basis."
"The new policy states that military departments will accommodate religious requests of service members unless they have an adverse effect on military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline," said Christensen.
"When requests for accommodation are made, the needs of the requesting service member are balanced against the needs of mission accomplishment. Only if it is determined that the needs of mission accomplishment outweigh the needs of the service member may the request be denied."
Various watchdog groups for religious liberty in the U.S. military have expressed diverse opinions on the new policy, with some questioning if it will lead to increased religious expression in the armed forces.
Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, told CP that, while it was good that groups like Sikhs are given more religious expression, humanists and atheists still lag behind.
Torpy remarked that he was "skeptical of the military's commitment to diversity of belief when our Navy Humanist Chaplain application sits unresolved more than six months after completion, and the military refuses to even allow 'Humanist' on official records alongside over 100 other options."
Retired chaplain Ron Crews, who is executive director for the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, told CP that he is hopeful about the new policy regarding religious freedom in the armed forces.
"We continue to hear stories from the field of military personnel being told they cannot express their views on marriage unless those views support same-sex relationships," said Crews.
"We are hopeful that these new guidelines will protect these service members as well. No American, especially those who wear our nation's military uniforms, should be denied their God-given, constitutionally protected religious liberties."
Lt. Gen. (ret.) Jerry Boykin, executive vice-president of the Family Research Council (FRC), said in a statement released Thursday that he was "cautiously optimistic" about the new policy.
"The DOD policy recognizes that the intent of Congress in both the FY 2013 and FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Acts was to protect service members' freedom to practice and express their faith," said Boykin.
"The key thing will be implementation: Does the Pentagon understand that religious liberty is our core freedom and that curtailing its expression in the military is not only unconstitutional but also deeply harmful to morale and unit cohesion?"