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Wide variety of faiths led to new policy to accommodate them

Feb. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Troops last year fell into 100 religious categories. (Spc. Eric A. Rutherford / Army)
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Troops last year fell into 100 religious categories, from Advent Christian Church (567) to Unknown (73,354) and most every faith in between.

So in an effort to accommodate more religious requests, the Pentagon late last month issued a new policy. It asked commanders to err on the side of troops seeking to worship in their own way.

That might mean allowing a Sikh soldier to wear a turban. Or finding a kosher meal for a Jewish Marine. Or setting aside a place to pray for a Muslim sailor.

"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," says Navy Lt. Cdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.

Rules can be bent, but they can't be broken. The bottom line, Christensen said, is that accomplishing the mission at hand comes first. Always.

That means a shave if facial hair prevents the proper fit of a gas mask, leaving behind a religious garment interferes with a flak jacket, or delaying prayer when a patrol must be run.

Troops can request waivers from their service's standards, Adm. John Kirby recently told reporters. But they won't be automatically granted.

"Two points that need to be made clear about this," Kirby said. "One, we're saying as a department we will accommodate these preferences and religious requirements. Number two, the mission can't suffer as a result."

The wide variety of worship or lack thereof is reflected in the ranks of the 1.3 million active-duty force. Troops aren't compelled to report but many do. The most popular affiliations: Christian, no denomination chosen, 346,752; no religious preference, 277,563; Roman Catholic, 262,248.

Elsewhere in the ranks, there are 301 Quakers and 1,561 troops who practice witchcraft. But you won't an agnostic in the Army. There are 3,126 atheists but not one agnostic.

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