Army will let Sikh officer keep turban, beard on active duty

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US Army Captain Simratpal Singh is the first to be allowed to maintain his religiously mandated beard and turban on active duty. Photo courtesy of The Sikh Coalition

U.S. Army Capt. Simratpal Singh is the first to be allowed to maintain his religiously mandated beard and turban on active duty. Photo courtesy of The Sikh Coalition

(RNS) A decorated veteran Sikh officer is the first to win an approval from the U.S. Army to continue on active duty while maintaining his religiously mandated beard and turban.

The Army issued a decision Thursday (March 31), concluding that to allow beards for medical reasons but ban them for religious reasons is a discriminatory bar to service for Sikh Americans, according to a statement from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, one of the law offices that argued his case.  

Capt. Simratpal Singh, a West Point graduate, an Army Ranger, and a veteran who earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan, “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 in a statement Friday. “This decision gives hope that our nation’s largest employer is making progress towards ending a policy of religious discrimination.”

Singh, who is assigned to battalion operations staff in Fort Belvoir, Va.,  said in the statement: “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.”  


RELATED STORY: No ‘discriminatory’ tests for Sikh soldier, judge tells the Army


Three other Sikh soldiers are pursuing similar accommodation, according to the Sikh Coalition. The Becket Fund and McDermott Will & Emery filed another federal court lawsuit on Tuesday asking the Army to allow the men to enter basic combat training while still wearing their beards and turbans. 

Debra Wada, assistant secretary of the Army, granted Singh’s request and gave notice that the Army will “gather information to develop uniform standards for religious accommodation,” according to the decision.

“Captain Singh’s case is a painful study in the onerous hurdles for observant Sikh Americans who want to serve their country,” said McDermott Will & Emery partner Amandeep Sidhu. “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.”

(Cathy Lynn Grossman is senior national reporter for RNS)

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  • MaryLou Scherer

    Canadians have done that for years…their defense minister is a Sikh former high-ranking officer who fought in Afghanistan and was decorated for his service

  • Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Bole so Nihal – Sat Sri Akal.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    That sounds racist.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    I’m pleased to see this bit of common sense prevailing.

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  • Joel Holmes

    Good thing Singh isn’t a student at San Francisco State University (SFSU)!

  • Everett

    Well now, since the camel’s nose has firmly gotten under the Army Regulation 670-1 tent what other accommodations are in the works that we can expect.?

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  • Diogenes

    As a Vet and a Christian, I respect the military’s flexibility in this matter. I understand the general advisability of requiring uniformity in appearance for service members, but if this accommodation does not interfere with a soldier’s responsibilities and operational requirements, it seems a reasonable response. The British military has made such accommodations for decades without any apparent diminishing of its effectiveness.

  • Joe Cool

    Well, I find it disgusting. I do not care if Canada, the UK, or any country allows it. It is simply wrong. The US Military has legitimate hair and dress code standards for a reason and we should not let religion and culture dictate how it should be. This is a sad chapter in the US Military in addition to allowing homosexuals in and I have nothing against gays or Sikhs but this has to stop. This makes me very mad at all religions and cultures because these entities think they can have a pass at the expense of legitimate US Military standards. I hope the US Military has a very deep decline in personnel. Muslims wearing hijabs, Sikhs wearing turbans and beards, and whatever is next for some miscellaneous religion/culture to further breakdown the US military. My advice to the Sikh solider is just get a haircut, shave, and take off the turban while in uniform.

  • Everett

    I can’t wait for the Pastafarians to demand their colander to be worn with the uniform. A Kevlar colander?

  • James

    And you are on a religious web site posting such vile hate towards others? I was in the military for 8 years, and see nothing wrong with allowing this to happen. As for homosexuals, they too should be allowed to fight for their country. I think you have a very closed view of the world and what you consider to be correct. Shame on you.