Press Release

Sikhs fight to serve as Marines Recruits appear in federal court to maintain religious beards in training

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

Milaap Singh Chahal at D.C. Circuit Court for Oral Argument 10-11-22

WASHINGTON – Three Sikhs were in federal court today fighting for their right to maintain religious beards and serve in the United States Marine Corps. In Singh v. Berger, Aekash Singh, Jaskirat Singh, and Milaap Singh Chahal were denied religious accommodations to begin basic training even though the Marine Corps regularly allows beards for secular reasons. Because the recruits are barred from entry, their careers have been on hold for over a year.  

The Marine Corps argues that allowing Sikhs to maintain religious beards during basic training would disrupt troop uniformity and ultimately undermine national security. However, the Marine Corps regularly permits recruits to grow beards for medical reasons if they have psuedofolliculitis barbae (razor bumps) and has broadly relaxed uniformity requirements by allowing tattoos and permitting women to wear long hair in various styles.   

“These recruits are simply asking to serve our country without having to abandon their religious beliefs,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket. “The Marine Corps should follow in the footsteps of other branches of the military—including the Army and Air Force—that already accommodate Sikh servicemembers who serve with valor and distinction. At a time of severe recruiting shortages, it hurts our military to broadly exclude fully qualified individuals who want to serve.” 

Sikhs have a long history of serving in militaries around the globe, motivated by their religious duty to defend the defenseless. Many Sikhs live out this duty by serving their countries while maintaining beards, turbans, and other articles of faith. But for years, the Marine Corps—unlike other branches of the U.S. military—have barred Sikh recruits with religious beards from entry into basic training. Today, the recruits asked for accommodations that will allow them to serve just as the Marine Corps has provided secular accommodations to allow others to serve.          

“Sikhs have a long history of capable service in the United States military since at least World War I,” said Giselle Klapper, senior staff attorney of the Sikh Coalition. “These brave recruits should not have to forfeit their faith to pursue a career that would allow them to continue this tradition in the Marine Corps.”

Winston & Strawn, the Sikh Coalition, and Baker Hostetler are also representing the recruits. 

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Ryan Colby atmedia@becketlaw.orgor 202-349-7219.Interviews can be arranged in English, Mandarin, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.