Defense

Army allows Sikh soldier to wear turban, beard

A decorated Sikh soldier will be allowed to wear a turban and beard while serving after the Army granted him a long-term religious accommodation.

“My military service continues to fulfill a lifelong dream,” Cpt. Simratpal Singh said in a written 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.”

{mosads}Devout followers of the South Asian religion wear unshorn hair and a turban.

Under a 2014 rule change, the armed services will accommodate religious requests for individual service members unless the request would interfere with military readiness, a mission or unit cohesion.

Singh, who earned a Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan, had been granted a temporary accommodation that expired Thursday. The Army handed down its decision on the accommodation late that night, according to his legal team.

“While assigned or performing non-hazardous duties, you may wear a beard, turban and uncut hair in a neat and conservative manner that presents a professional and well-groomed appearance,” reads an Army memo to Singh released by his lawyers.

Singh’s turban will have to be black or camouflage, depending on the situation, according to the memo. Also, his beard must be rolled or tied to no longer than two inches while he’s in garrison or one inch when he’s in the field. And his hair cannot cover his ears or eyebrows, or touch his uniform’s collar.

Debra Wada, assistant secretary of the Army, requested that his command provide quarterly assessments of the accommodation, and she plans to review it in a year, according to the memo.

“I may withdraw or limit the scope of your accommodation for reasons of military necessity, including if I cannot confirm that Army protective equipment (to include [Army combat helmet] and protective mask) will provide you the intended degree of protection against the hazards presented by the duties or areas to which you will be assigned,” the memo says.

Singh previously filed a lawsuit against the Army to stop it from requiring extra helmet and gas mask testing in order to give him the accommodation, and his legal team had threatened to file a new court motion if the accommodation was denied.

On Friday, his lawyers hailed the decision.

“The Army needs courageous men like Cpt. Singh who are willing to fight for what’s right,” Eric Baxter, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a written statement. “He’s already proven he is willing to sacrifice his life for the freedoms of others. Hooah to the Army for finally letting him enjoy his own religious freedom.”

Singh is represented by Becket, the Sikh Coalition and the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery. The same team is representing three Sikh soldiers who sued the Army earlier this week for religious accommodation.

Tags Religious symbolism in the United States military Sikh

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