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simratpal-singh

Simratpal Singh

 

Finally, the US Army will allow Sikh Bronze Star Medalist Simratpal Singh to serve with his turban and unshorn hair.

The U.S. Army announced in March it will grant decorated Afghanistan veteran and West Point graduate Captain Simratpal Singh permission to wear a turban and beard while serving as on active duty.  Since childhood, Singh has been devoted to his faith. Growing up, he wore the patka, a small turban to cover unshorn hair and he began wearing a full turban and uncut beard in high school. These external symbols are reminders of inherent dignity and equality of every one in the eyes of God; two core “articles of faith” in the Sikh religion.

The debate over Simratpal Singh’s religious accommodations has been an ongoing battle. The Army has allowed Sikh doctors to don facial hair and religious headgear on a case-by-case basis in the past. However, they traditionally prohibit Sikhs who serve in combat units from doing so. The Becket fund helped with the case.

This March, things changed. Singh was granted accommodation for his turban and unshorn hair.

Assistant Secretary of the Army Debra Wada read a letter granting Singh year-long accommodation while on duty.

She read, “I have considered your request for a religious accommodation to permit you to wear a beard, turban, and uncut hair in observance of your Sikh faith, along with the recommendations of your chain of command.”

It’s a victory for Singh. Even if there are a few caveats, such as roles that necessitate protective masks, members of the Sikh Coalition are happy and will work hard for religious liberty in the work ahead.

As Eric Baxter, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty says, “The Army needs courageous men like Captain Singh who are willing to fight for what’s right.”

A collaboration between the Sikh Coalition, the Becket Fund, and law firm McDermott Will & Emery also worked on allowing three Sikh men to brandish turbans, uncut hair and beards for their Basic Combat Training  May 2016.