ACCOMMODATION OF RELIGIOUS
PRACTICES WITHIN THE U.S. MILITARY
These are excerpts from the Department of Defense Directive DODD-1300.17, dated
1988-FEB-03. The full text can be obtained from the department's
WWW site by searching the DOD Directives for the term religion.
A. REISSUANCE AND PURPOSE
This Directive reissues reference (a) and, pursuant to references (b) and (c), prescribes
policy, procedures, and responsibilities for the accommodation of religious practices in
the Military Services.
- A basic principle of our nation is free exercise of religion. The Department of Defense
places a high value on the rights of members of the Armed Forces to observe the tenets of
their respective religions. It is DoD policy that requests for accommodation of religious
practices should be approved by commanders when accommodation will not have an adverse
impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, standards or discipline.
- The following goals are to be used by the Military Departments in the development of
guidance on the exercise of command discretion concerning the accommodation of religious
practices. Nothing in these goals or in the implementing rules of the Military Departments
(except when expressly provided therein) shall be interpreted as requiring a specific form
of accommodation in individual circumstances.
a. Worship services, holy days, and Sabbath observance should be accommodated, except
when precluded by military necessity.
b. The Military Departments should include religious belief as one factor for
consideration when granting separate rations, and permit commanders to authorize
individuals to provide their own supplemental food rations in a field or "at
sea" environment to accommodate their religious beliefs.
c. The Military Departments should consider religious beliefs as a factor for waiver of
immunizations, subject to medical risks to the unit and military requirements, such as
alert status and deployment potential.
d. The Military Departments should include relevant materials on religious traditions,
practices, and policies in the curricula for command, judge advocate, chaplain, and
similar courses and orientations.
e. The Military Departments should develop a statement advising of DoD policy on
individual religious practices and military requirements to applicants for commissioning,
enlistment, and reenlistment.
f. Religious items or articles not visible or otherwise apparent may be worn with the
uniform, provided they shall not interfere with the performance of the member's military
duties, as discussed in subparagraph C.2.g.(5), below, or interfere with the proper
wearing of any authorized article of the uniform.
g. Under Public Law 100-180, section 508 (reference (c)), members of the Armed Forces
may wear visible items of religious apparel while in uniform, except under circumstances
in which an item is not neat and conservative or its wearing shall interfere with the
performance of the member's military duties.
- Under this Directive, "religious apparel" is defined as articles of clothing
worn as part of the doctrinal or traditional observance of the religious faith practiced
by the member. Hair and grooming practices required or observed by religious groups are
not included within the meaning of religious apparel. Jewelry bearing religious
inscriptions or otherwise indicating religious affiliation or belief is subject to
existing Service uniform regulations just as jewelry that is not of a religious nature.
- In the context of the wearing of a military uniform, "neat and conservative"
items of religious apparel are those that:
(a) Are discreet, tidy, and not dissonant or showy in style, size, design, brightness,
(b) Do not replace or interfere with the proper wearing of any authorized article of the
(c) Are not temporarily or permanently affixed or appended to any authorized article of
- The standards in subparagraph C.2.g.(2), above, are intended to serve as a basis for
determining a member's entitlement under Public Law 100- 180, section 508 (reference (c)),
to wear religious apparel with the uniform. For example, unless prohibited by subparagraph
C.2.g.(6), below, a Jewish yarmulke may be worn with the uniform whenever a military cap,
hat, or other headgear is not prescribed. A yarmulke may also be worn underneath military
headgear as long as it does not interfere with the proper wearing, functioning, or
appearance of the prescribed headgear.
- Exceptions to the standards in subparagraph C.2.g.(2), above, and other special
accommodations for members of particular religious groups may be granted by the Military
Departments under section D., below.
- Whether an item of religious apparel interferes with the performance of the member's
military duties depends on the characteristics of the item, the circumstances of its
intended wear, and the particular nature of the member's duties. Factors in determining if
an item of religious apparel interferes with military duties include, but are not limited
to, whether the item may:
(a) Impair the safe and effective operation of weapons, military equipment, or
(b) Pose a health or safety hazard to the wearer or others.
(c) Interfere with the wearing or proper functioning of special or protective clothing
or equipment (e.g., helmets, flack jackets, flight suits, camouflaged uniforms, gas masks,
wet suits, and crash and rescue equipment).
(d) Otherwise impair the accomplishment of the military mission.
- A complete prohibition on the wearing of any visible items of religious apparel may be
appropriate under unique circumstances in which the member's duties, the military mission,
or the maintenance of discipline require absolute uniformity. For example, members may be
prohibited from wearing visible religious apparel while wearing historical or ceremonial
uniforms; participating in review formations, parades, honor or color guards, and similar
ceremonial details and functions.
- The authority to approve the wearing of an item of religious apparel with the uniform,
under the guidelines of this paragraph, shall be exercised at the command level specified
by each Military Department. Denials of requests to wear religious apparel shall be
subject to review at the Service Headquarters level. Final review shall occur within 30
days following the date of initial denial for cases arising in the United States, and
within 60 days for all other cases. Exceptions to these deadlines shall be limited to
exigent circumstances, such as extended deployment. Service members shall be obliged to
comply with orders prohibiting the wearing of questionable items of religious apparel
pending review of such orders under regulations issued by the Secretaries of the Military
- h. Notwithstanding paragraphs C.2.f. and g., above, chaplains may wear any required
religious apparel or accouterments with the uniform while conducting worship services and
during the performance of rites and rituals distinct to their faith groups.
- Under rules prescribed by the Secretary of the Military Department concerned, military
commanders should consider the following factors along with any other factors deemed
appropriate in determining whether to grant a request for accommodation of religious
practices addressed in section C., above:
a. The importance of military requirements in terms of individual and unit readiness,
health and safety, discipline, morale, and cohesion.
b. The religious importance of the accommodation to the requester.
c. The cumulative impact of repeated accommodations of a similar nature.
d. Alternative means available to meet the requested accommodation.
e. Previous treatment of the same or similar requests, including treatment of similar
requests made for other than religious reasons.
- The factors in subsection D.1, above, are intended to promote standard procedure for
resolving difficult questions involving accommodation of religious practices. In view of
the different mission requirements of each command, individual consideration of specific
requests for accommodation is necessary; With the exception of requests involving the
wearing of visible items of religious apparel with the uniform, denials of which must be
reviewed at the Service Headquarters level, the appropriate level of command for
resolution of these issues shall be determined by each of the Military Departments, based
on its particular requirements and circumstances.
- When requests for accommodation are not in the best interest of the unit and continued
tension between the unit's requirements and the individual's religious beliefs is
apparent, administrative actions should be considered. These actions may include, but are
not limited to, assignment, reassignment, reclassification, or separation. Nothing in this
Directive precludes action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (reference (d)) in