Sikh-American permitted to serve with turban and beard

3 Apr 2016 | Written by Ramya ; Edited by Vaneet Randhawa

In a first, the US military has finally granted a long-term religious accommodation to a decorated Sikh-American combat officer.

US Defence Department allowed Capt. Simratpal Singh to serve the country and maintain his religious faith of wearing turban and keeping beard.

The 28-year-old combat veteran had filed a lawsuit and sued the US Defence Department after he faced discrimination for his beard and turban.

In context: Sikhs' fight against religious discrimination

First Sikh-Canadian who fought for religion rights

In 1990, Baltej Singh Dhillon’s appointment had created a huge controversy and his recruitment received opposition from rightists. Despite the racist backlash, Dhillon won the fight and became the first turbaned Sikh to be appointed in Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Capt. Who is Simratpal Singh?

Captain Simratpal Singh, a Seattle-based Sikh, was forced to cut his hair and shave his beard to join the US Military in 2006.

For almost ten years, he rose through ranks and won Bronze Star award for his exemplary service in Afghanistan.

In October 2015, Singh asked the US Military to allow him to grow his beard and hair according to his religious belief.

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US Military grants temporary religious accommodation

In Dec'15, the US Military had granted Singh a temporary religious accommodation until 31 March 2016. Many people saw it as a crack in the strict uniform standards of the military which discourage religious Americans from joining the army.
Sikh-American soldier sues US Military over religious discrimination

29 Feb 2016Sikh-American soldier sues US Military over religious discrimination

Captain Simratpal Singh, a Sikh US solider, had sued the US Defence Department in a lawsuit filed with Washington's Federal District Court citing religious discrimination.

In his lawsuit, Singh claimed that the US Army had made him undergo performance tests which the other soldiers weren't subjected to.

US Army had banned long hair and beards as their helmets and gas masks wouldn't fit properly.

US Constitution gives Singh right to practice religion

One of Singh’s lawyers stated, "The US Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act make it clear that Captain Singh has the right to practice his faith in the military, and we are confident that the court will agree."

29 Feb 2016Captain Singh subject to religious discrimination: Lawyers

Sikh Coalition's lawyers, McDermott Will and Emery, and Becket Fund for Religious Liberty were representing Captain Singh in the Federal District Court, Washington.

Two months after being granted a temporary accommodation, Singh was ordered to report for additional testing in a view to continuing his military service.

One of his representatives argued about some army-troops who were permitted to grow beards for medical reasons.

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NSW government allows Sikhs to wear turban

On 29 March’16, New South Wales’ Roads Minister Duncan Gay stated that Sikhs can wear turbans while being photographed for drivers’ licenses. He added that turbans could be worn as long the chin, forehead, and facial edges were visible.

29 Mar 2016Three more Sikh-Americans file lawsuit

Sikh-Americans, Specialist Kanwar Singh, Specialist Harpal Singh and Private Arjan Singh Ghotra, had filed a lawsuit against the Defence Department and sought to serve in the defence forces without compromising on their religious belief.

The Defence Department didn't respond to their demand filed on 23 March 2016.

The plaintiffs were expected to begin Basic Combat Training in May 2016 in different armed forces' units.

3 Apr 2016Sikh-American permitted to serve with turban and beard

US Army to develop clear, uniform standards

Debra Wada of the US Army stated that they intend to develop clear, uniform standards for soldiers with religious accommodation. Captain Simratpal was allowed to wear a black or camouflage turban in a neat, conservative manner until standards are developed.

3 Apr 2016Accommodation is revocable: US Military

The US Army stated that if his beard or turban affects the unit in any manner, the accommodation would be revoked.

After receiving the grant from the US Military, Captain Simratpal stated that his faith, like other soldiers', is an integral part of him.

He was thankful that he no longer has to choose between his faith and service to his country.

08 Oct 2016US allows permanent religious accommodation for Sikhs in US army

The US today announced that from now on Sikhs would get career-long religious accommodation to serve in the armed forces while keeping their "articles of faith like the turban and beard."

Congressman Joe Crowley, spearheading the drive for Sikh Americans said the US was a stronger nation due to such personal freedoms.

Previously, such accommodations could be renewed for permission before new assignments.