Posts tagged ‘Sikh Accomodation’

U.S. Army Accomodates First Active Duty Religious Beard in Decades

USA: Months after Iknoor Singh won his right to enroll in the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) , the first accommodation of a religious beard for an active-duty U.S. soldier in decades was granted to Captain Simratpal Singh, 27, last week.

Simratpal Singh (New York Times)

Captain Singh began his career as a West Point cadet at seventeen years old. In the last ten years, Singh has cleared roadside bombs in Afghanistan and earned a Bronze Star for his valiant services. But his passion to serve and protect others cost him his Sikh identity: from his time as a cadet until last week, Singh was forced to cut his hair and shave his beard–acts that are forbidden in the Sikh faith. As articulated by Singh in an interview where he discussed the requirement to shed his articles of faith, “Your self-image, what you believe in, is cut away.” While Singh’s honorable deeds as a soldier in the last decade exemplify Sikhism’s message to protect those in need and fight for justice, he was forced to routinely cut away the features that identified him as a Sikh to do so. Singh is not the first Sikh American whose ability to serve in the armed forces while maintaining his articles of faith has been challenged. However, Sikhs have been serving in international militias with their articles of faith throughout history, including during World Wars I and II.

Sikh personnel in Belgium in 1915. More than 169,000 Sikh soldiers laid down their lives fighting in the World Wars.

Just last month, Canada’s Harjit Singh Sajjan became the first baptized Sikh to serve as Minister of Defense in the Prime Minister’s cabinet. This comes after a career as an active-duty member of the military, during which he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and served three deployments to Afghanistan. When his religious beard posed the obstacle of preventing the use of a gas mask, Sajjan patented a gas mask he designed himself that could be worn over his religious beard. During his first appearance as Minister in the House of Commons last Monday, Sajjan was met with a standing ovation.

Sajjan was sworn in last month. 

UNITED SIKHS is pleased to see this exemption granted to a truly deserving American. While the years that Singh was forced to renounce his Sikh identity cannot be given back to him, we are hopeful that the victories of Sikh Americans in the U.S. Army this year will continue to serve as a precedent for years to come.

“Iknoor Singh approached UNITED SIKHS when he seventeen years old–the same age that Simratpal Singh first cut his hair to begin his training ten years ago. After a two year battle, Iknoor was spared of the ten-year turmoil endured by his fellow Sikh American when justice was ruled in his favor this year. We hope to see times continue to change in favor of unity and acceptance in 2016 and beyond,” said UNITED SIKHS’ Staff Attorney Jaspreet Kaur.

Manmeet Singh, Counsel to UNITED SIKHS added, “The decision by the Federal Court of DC earlier this year in Iknoor Singh’s case has turned the tide towards acceptance of Sikhs in the U.S. armed forces, the most recent example of which is the accommodation given to Capt.Simratpal Singh. In Iknoor Singh’s case, it was the first time in decades that a court of law granted relief to a Sikh on the issue of religious accommodation in the armed forces. This case was a trendsetter, and we are elated that its aftereffects are being seen in the form of accommodations to well deserving soldiers such as Capt.Singh. The legal team at UNITED SIKHS is proud to have served attorneys of record in Iknoor Singh’s case along with attorneys at the ACLU.”

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