THE RELIGIOUS APPAREL AMENDMENT HON. STEPHEN J. SOLARZ OF NEW YORK IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Monday, May 11, 1987
Mr. SOLARZ. Mr. Speaker, I rise to offer an amendment to the Defense Department authorization bill which would ensure that members of the Armed Forces will not be forced to choose between their sincere religious beliefs and a desire to serve their country. I am offering this amendment with my esteemed colleague from Colorado, PAT SCHROEDER, chairwoman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel. Our amendment would allow a member of the Armed Forces to wear religious apparel while in uniform provided that the apparel is neat and conservative and that it not interfere with the performance of the member's military duties. This is identical to the amendment which passed the HOUSE last Congress as part of the 1987 Defense Authorization Act. A similar measure--sponsored by Senators LAUTENBERG and D'AMATO--is pending in the Senate. The need for congressional action rose in response to the case of Capt Simcha Goldman. An orthodox rabbi, he was disciplined for wearing his yarmulke while on duty because it was a violation of the Air Force dress code. That code prohibits the wearing of headgear while indoors. Orthodox jews, by the dictates of their religion, are required to cover their heads at all times. Rabbi Goldman did not want to choose between his religious convictions and the desires to serve his country so he appealed the judgement against him. The U.S. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court ruled against him. The Supreme Court's decision--by the narrowest of margins--5 to 4--ruled that the Air Force's perceived need for uniformed dress overrode Goldman's first amendment right. It is worth noting that the 5 to 4 decision would have been the reverse if the case had been heard after Justice Anton Scalia joined the Court. While sitting on the court of appeals, Scalia voted to uphold Captain Goldman's right to wear his yarmulke. Opponents of this amendment argue that it would threaten uniformity and reduce military cohesion. But there are many precedents which undermine that position. The Air Force regulatoins themselves explicitly state: "Neither the Air Force nor the public expects absolute uniformity in appearance. Each Member has the right, within limits, to express individuality. However, the image of a disciplined service member who can be relied on to do his or her job excludes the extreme, the unusual, and the fad." A yarmulke is a symbol of religious conviction. It is not extreme, is not unusual, and is certainly not a fad. Air Force regulations, while disallowing the wearing of a yarmulke, permit individuality in the wearing of up to three rings and one identification bracelet of nonuniform design. These items can be worn if they are "neat and conservative." We are asking that these exact standards be applied to the weearing of religious apparel as well. In addition to cases of jewelry, there are numerous other examples of exceptions to uniformity. The 22nd Bomb Wing, stationed at March Air Force Base in California--the same base as Simcha Goldman--set a record in 1981 for on-time takeoffs of airplanes. The crew chief of this operation wore a lucky green and white garter during every launch, with, obviously, no adverse effect on the mission at hand. If the military tolerates this type of superstition, it should tolerate a sincerely held religious belief. The Air Force has argued that wearing of religious apparel would diminsh discipline and thus have an adverse affect on the morale and faighting spirit of our Armed Forces. I can point to examples where the exact opposite has occurred. Jacob Goldstein, an orthdox Jewish chaplain serving in the National Guard--and a resident of my district in Brooklyn--was sent to Greneda while our forces were engaged in hostilities there. Had Rabbi Goldstein--who wore his yarmulke at all times--undermined military discipline, he surely would not have received a citation from the Department of the Army which praised him for "meritorious achievement" and "unique dedication to duty." In his dissent ot the Supreme Court ruling, Justice Brennan stated: "a yarmulke worn with the U.S. military uniform is an eloquent reminder that the shared and proud identity of U.S. servicemen embraces and unites religious and ethnic pluralism." I can think of no finer illustration of the Justice's words than an event that occurred in the wake of the tragic destruction of our Marine barracks in Beirut. Lt.Comdr. Arnold Resnicoff, a Navy chaplain, was present at that disaster. Allow me to read you a portion of his account: "Working with the wounded--sometimes comforting and simply letting them know help was on the way, sometimes trying to pull and carry those whose injuries appeared less dangerous than the approaching fire or the smothering smoke--my kippa [the Hebrew word for yarmulke] was lost. The last I remember it, I had used it to mop someone's brow. Father Pucciarelli, the Catholic chaplain, cut a circle out of his cap which would become my temporary head covering. Somehow we wanted those Marines to know not just that we were chaplains, but that he was Christian and that I was Jewish. Somehow, we both wanted to shout the message in a land where people were killing each other based on the differences in religion among them, that we Americans still believed that we could be proud of our particular religions, and yet work side by side when the time came to help others, to comfort, and to ease pain. President Reagan, and Marine Commandant P.X.Kelly--two men who have strong feelings amout military discipline--have publically commended Rabbi Resnicoff for his bravery. Kelly often uses this example as the textbook case of military cohesiveness under fire--a direct rebuttal of the Air Force's argument. Rabbi Resnicoff is an active chaplain. Just 2 weeks ago, he officiated in a ceremony in the Capitol rotunda, a ceremony attended by many of the distinguished Members of this body. In his full uniform, and wearing his yarmulke, Rabbi Resnicoff delivered the benediction at the National Civic Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance--the official Holocaust memorial ceremony of the U.S. Congress. Mr. Speaker, I have described these examples in detail because I believe that they clearly show that permitting the men and women of our Armed Forces to wear religious apparel that does not interfere with their duties will not lessen the effectiveness of our military. Let me further add that the United States would not be alone if we adopted this amendment. In Canada, New Zealand, and in India, Sikh and Jewish soldiers are permitted to wear religious headgear. In the United Kingdom, the regulatoins of the Royal Air Force, which require all personnel to remove their headgear before a judge or magistrate, specifically exempts members of the jewish faith or other religions which require the head to be covered. And finally, the Israeli Defense Forces have employed thousands of soldiers who have distinguished themselves in battle while wearing religious apparel. The IDF--universally recognized as one of the finest armed forces in the world--has certainly not been adversely affected by this practice. In conclusion, Mr Speaker, let me say that our amendment will not in any way hinder the effectiveness of our military. The Secretary of Defense would be fully empowered to forbid the wearing of any apparel which he felt would reduce a member's military capabilities. Furthermore, this amendment goes byond the tenets of any one religion. It concerns the right of people of all faiths to serve their country without having to forsake their religious beliefs. That is what this country is all about. I strongly urge my colleagues to approve this amendment.