Faith and military service: Why aren’t there more Sikhs in the military? New video follows the 10-year journey of Sikh military captain to receive religious accommodation
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Decorated Captain Simratpal Singh, along with other Sikhs wanting to serve their country, has finally prevailed against a three-decade ban preventing observant Sikhs from serving in the United States Army. His journey is documented in a new video released today.
Military service runs strong in Captain Singh’s family. When he was accepted into West Point in 2006, he believed that he would be given a religious accommodation for his unshorn hair, beard, and turban. But on Reception Day Captain Singh was told he had to cut his hair and shave or give up his seat at the Academy. Compelled on the spot to choose between serving his country and his faith—a decision no American should have to make—he chose to serve, committing to reclaim his articles of faith at the earliest opportunity. Yesterday, the Army issued new regulations ending Captain Singh’s long ten-year journey.
“My hope is that no 18-year-old kid has to make the miserable decision that I had to make to choose between their faith and their country,” said Captain Simratpal Singh. “And that parents can tell their young kids, ‘You can be anything that you want in the United States, and that includes military service, and still practice your faith fully.’”
West Point graduate and Bronze Star Medal recipient Captain Singh, along with other Sikh soldiers, faced the prospect of being forced to compromise his faith despite the fact that the military already accommodates nearly 100,000 soldiers with beards for medical or other reasons. The soldiers initially received temporary accommodations in the spring of 2016, allowing them to report to their assignments with beard and turban intact, but the Army continued to withhold assurances that they could finish their military careers. The new policy now makes that promise, with the sole restriction that soldiers may be asked to shave in the case of real tactical situations involving specific and concrete threat of exposure to toxic agents.
“Military experts have always questioned why the U.S. military has restricted Sikhs from serving,” said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, which acted as co-counsel on Captain Singh’s behalf. “Our Army will be stronger and our nation safer with Sikhs serving alongside their fellow Americans.”
Becket and the Sikh Coalition, along with co-counsel at McDermott Will & Emery, filed a complaint in February in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asking the court to permanently protect Captain Singh’s First Amendment right to keep his beard and turban while serving in the military. A second lawsuit was filed on behalf of Specialist Harpal Singh, Private Arjan Ghotra, and Specialist Kanwar Singh. Yesterday, the Army has promised to secure their right, and the right of all Sikhs, to serve without having to abandon their faith.
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at email@example.com or 202.349.7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more).