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

(RNS) The ruling called the tests "discriminatory" and likely to discourage soldiers from seeking religious accommodations.

Revelations-Series-Banner-770x150(RNS) The U.S. Army cannot subject Sikh Army Captain Simratpal Singh, who wears a turban and beard, to discriminatory tests that could prohibit him from service, a U.S District Court judge has ruled.

Singh– a West Point graduate, Army Ranger, and recipient of a Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan — sued the Army over extensive and unique safety tests it imposed. The tests were supposed to assess if Singh’s beard and turban – both required by his Sikh faith — would interfere with a gas mask and helmet.

Initially, the Department of Defense gave him temporary religious accommodation but that would have expired March 31, according to a statement released by the Sikh Coalition.

Judge Beryl A. Howell ruled Thursday (March 4) the service must stop “any non-standard or discriminatory testing” involving the fit of Capt. Simratpal Singh’s helmet and gas mask. He had been ordered to take part in a special three day test, according to the Army Times.

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Howell’s ruling pointed out, however, that the Army is required to approve “requests for accommodation of religious practices unless accommodation will have an adverse impact on unit readiness, individual readiness, unit cohesion, morale, good order, discipline, safety, and/or health.”

She issued a temporary restraining order blocking the Army from further testing for Singh after concluding that the testing, “due only to his Sikh articles of faith” was “unfair and discriminatory and showed “a clear tendency” to discourage Singh and other soldiers from seeking reigious accommodations

The Sikh Coalition’s Legal Director, Harsimran Kaur, said in a statement, “The military’s treatment of Captain Singh, a decorated soldier, makes it clear that they deliberately want to squash diversity and religious freedom in their ranks; that is not something that any court, or American, should ever tolerate.”

(Cathy Lynn Grossman is senior national correspondent for RNS)