The U.S. military has granted a Sikh-American officer a religious exemption allowing him to continue serving his country while maintaining his articles of faith. The landmark decision makes Captain Simratpal Singh, a decorated combat veteran, the first active duty Sikh soldier to receive approval to wear a beard and turban while actively serving in the U.S. Army.
“Captain Singh again proves to our military that the religiously mandated turban and beard do not hinder the ability to successfully serve,” said Sikh Coalition Legal Director, Harsimran Kaur. “This decision gives hope that our nation’s largest employer is making progress towards ending a policy of religious discrimination.”
Captain Singh graduated from West Point with honors in 2010, but was then forced to make the untenable choice between his religion and his career. Following failed attempts to obtain an accommodation, he cut his hair and shaved his beard. After successfully completing Army Ranger School, a Bronze Star tour in Afghanistan, and receiving numerous other military accolades in various military positions, Captain Singh filed a religious accommodation request on October 21, 2015.
“My military service continues to fulfill a lifelong dream,” said Captain Singh. “My faith, like many of the soldiers I work with, is an integral part of who I am. I am thankful that I no longer have to make the choice between faith and service to our nation.”
Captain Singh will continue in his battalion operations staff position at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia.
“With this historic accommodation, we hope that the U.S. military will finally move past protracted, case-by-case religious accommodations and recognize that the time for permanent policy change is now,” said a spokesperson for McDermott Will & Emery, which, along with the Sikh Coalition, and Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, filed the lawsuit.
In November 2015, 27 retired U.S. Generals called on the U.S. Department of Defense to eliminate the ban. This letter joins the 105 Members of Congress, 15 U.S. Senators, and 21 national Interfaith and civil rights organizations, who have previously signed letters in support of American Sikhs’ right to serve while maintaining their tenets.
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