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UNITED SIKHS in the NEWS

Kew Gardens Sikh wins his suit against the Army
June 23, 2015

 

It's not everyday that a person earns the chance to join the U.S. Army after suing them.


The American Army rejected Kew Gardens resident Iknoor Signh's application to join its Reserve Officers' Training Corps, according to United Sikhs, an advocacy group. Singh is a practicing Sikh and religious requirements dictate that he wear a turban and grow a beard. For these reasons, the Army rejected his application, claiming that it would affect unit cohesion, morale, discipline, health and safety.


But Singh, who is a junior at Hofstra University in Hempstead, sallied forth and sued the U.S. Army. A judge ruled in his favor, paving the way for Singh's total victory.


"I'm very grateful that the freedom of religion our country fought so hard for will allow me to pursue my dream career - serving this country as a military intelligence officer - without violating my faith," Iknoor said in a United Sikhs statement.


The ACLU and a Queens advocacy group, United Sikhs, filed the lawsuit against the Army in November. They said that the Army's rejection of Iknoor violated his religious rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that provides protections for religious expression and practices.


A federal court ruled on June 14 that Singh must be allowed to enroll in the Army's ROTC without having to cut his hair and beard nor remove his turban. The decision was made by U.S. Federal District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.


ROTC is a college-based program for training commissioned officers of the United States Armed Forces.


According to a spokesman for United Sikhs, a Queens-based advocacy group, Singh came to the organization in 2013 when he was 17-years-old seeking out the organization's legal advice. With the ACLU, United Sikhs brought the lawsuit against the Army.


"This decision permits Iknoor to equally and fairly compete for a contracted position in the ROTC while maintaining his turban and beard, a tremendous victory for the Sikh community," United Sikhs wrote in a statement . "It adds one more Sikh to the very short list of Sikhs in uniform in the United States."


The judge rejected the Army's argument that Singh's religious expression would degrade the Army. Jackson ruled instead that the Army has made thousands of exemptions for grooming and uniform rules in the past and it did not harm the Army's mission.


"When held up to the light, the Army's reasons for denying Mr. Singh's religious accommodation crumbled," said Heather Weaver, senior staff attorney in the ACLU's Program on the Freedom of Religion and Belief. "Because the evidence showed that no harm would come to the Army or third parties from accommodating Mr. Singh, rejecting his request was a clear violation of RFRA."


Reach reporter Eric Jankiewicz by e-mail at ejankiewicz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260-4564.