The U.S. Army granted a rare religious accommodation to a Fort Leonard Wood staff sergeant who is a member of the “Heathen, Norse Pagan faith.”
The move came as a result of the Army authorizing beards for religious soldiers in January 2017 as part of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a move specifically enacted for Sikh soldiers but applied to all religions, Army Times reported.
“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, Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia,” stated a memo, authenticated by an Army spokeswoman, that circulated on social media.
“All proper procedures outlined in Army Directives 2017-03 and 2016-34 were followed when requesting and approving this religious accommodation,” a spokeswoman from Missouri's Fort Leonard Wood told Fox News.
In the memo, the staff sergeant “expressed that the ability to wear a beard defines the heathen man and his sexuality as it personifies his character, masculinity, and qualities that Norse Pagan men are to value reflective of their beliefs...Both the Elder and Younger Edda’s as well as the Sagas reference beards and their importance within Forn Siðr. A well-groomed and healthy beard is an important aspect of Heathenry and Forn Siðr.”
It added: “As a practicing Heathen, Norse Pagan, there has been a conflict in an inability to fully embrace the tenants of his faith’s traditions, values, and beliefs."
According to Army Directive 2017-03, beards with approved accommodations must be less than two inches in length from the bottom of the chin and cannot be groomed with petroleum-based products.
While the religious accommodation is pretty much set in stone for the soldier’s career, it may be temporarily suspended if there is a threat of exposure to certain toxic agents which require all soldiers to be clean-shaven, and, because of the beard, the soldier is also barred from attending military schools with toxic agent training or being assigned to positions that require compliance with biological, chemical, or nuclear surety requirements.