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

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.

RELATED STORY: Anti-Muslim rhetoric puts Sikhs on edge too

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)

About the author

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues


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  • As long a said individual is deployable to any and all combat environments and does not put at risk his fellow soldiers. But if he can’t deploy to a CBR environment or could more easily fall to such agents making himself a burden to his unit…then no, he has no business in the military. Period.

    It is about the mission. The military is not some grand social experiment.

  • “Grand social experiment”?


    Do you realize Sikhs have been serving in modern military forces for both Great Britain and India for over a century? This included the first (and only) modern war among developed nations where poison gas was used.

    This is simply ignorance and a shade of bias against minority religions playing out here.

  • Sad to say you’re correct, joh. “Grand social experiment” was the lie anti-gays were telling when the prohibition on gay and lesbian service members was lifted a few years ago.

  • yup. funny thing about that was that everybody in the military that you asked would tell you that they served alongside gay people, had long known it, and didn’t give a rat’s behind about it. The only people it made a difference to were the aging bigots in the congress. Everybody else had moved on from that rubbish at least a generation earlier.

    The stuff about the Sikhs – and Muslims, for that matter – is the same kind of uninformed trash riding on a wave of bigotry.

  • Since 1921, six Sikhs have earned the Victoria Cross. Britain’s equivalent to the Medal of Honor. The highest award one can receive in their military for valor in combat. Anyone who thinks Sikhs as a group are unsuited for modern military situations have no idea what they are talking about.