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UNITED SIKHS in the NEWS

Sikh student wins court battle against US Army over his hair and turban

Judge rules the student's devotion to his religious beliefs 'would not diminish his ability to serve in the military'

Tuesday 16 June 2015

 

A Sikh college student - who said he could not join the US Army unless he violated his religious beliefs by removing his turban, shaving and cutting his hair - said he is "excited and nervous" after the decision was upheld in court.


20-year-old Iknoor Singh from Queens in New York said he has had a lifelong interest in public service and began thinking of a military career several years ago.


The finance and business analytics student at Long Island's Hofstra University told the Associated Press last year: "It has been one of those passions and dreams.


"If you look back in history, Sikhs have a very rich military tradition. We have always stood up to oppression and stand up for justice."


Sikhism - a 500-year-old religion, originally founded in India - requires male followers to wear a turban and beard and keep their hair uncut as a mark of respect to the founders of the faith.


Under a policy announced by the Reserve Officer Training Corps last January, troops can seek waivers on a case-by-case basis to wear religious clothing, seek prayer time or participate in religious practices.


Approval depends on where the service member is stationed and whether the change would affect military duties and there are currently only a few Sikhs serving in the US army who have been granted religious accommodations.


When Mr Singh was told he must comply with military rules - and only then ask for a waiver that would allow him to wear his turban, beard and long hair - the groups United Sikhs and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were forced to file a federal lawsuit last November in Washington, DC.


The Sikh turban is over 500-years-old and is worn as a mark of respect for the faith's founders


Last week, however, U.S. District Court Judge, Amy Berman Jackson, declared that Mr Singh's devotion to his religious beliefs would not diminish his ability to serve in the military.


She added: "It is difficult to see how accommodating [the] plaintiff' s religious exercise would do greater damage to the Army's compelling interests in uniformity, discipline, credibility, unit cohesion and training than the tens of thousands of medical shaving profiles the Army has already granted."


Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Ben Garrett, said in a statement that the decision is currently being examined. He said: "The Army takes pride in sustaining a culture where all personnel are treated with dignity and respect and not discriminated against based on race, colour, religion, gender and national origin."


Mr Singh acknowledged: "Becoming an officer is not an easy thing. You have to be proficient in many areas."