A Sikh army captain who sued the U.S. military for discrimination in March has won the right to continue serving on active duty while upholding his religiously mandated turban and beard.
The U.S. Army released its decision on Thursday to grant Captain Simratpal Singh “religious accommodation” to the rules against facial hair and headwear, adding that “the Army intends to gather information to develop uniform standards for religious accommodations.”
“My military service continues to fulfill a lifelong dream,” Singh, a West Point graduate who earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan, said in a press release. “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.”
After years of cutting his hair and shaving his face, Singh was finally granted a temporary accommodation in December. Assistant Army Secretary Debra Wada ordered tests in March to determine whether Singh could safely wear a helmet and gas mask if he had a turban, uncut hair and a beard.
Thursday’s decision by the Army states that Singh will not have to reapply for accommodation in the future.
“In a political context where minorities are being marginalized and attacked routinely, it is critical that our nation’s largest institutions and employers — like the U.S. military — show the country that America embraces diversity,” Simran Jeet Singh, the Senior Religion Fellow for the Sikh Coalition, told The Huffington Post.
He added, though, that this decision is just one step toward ending the discriminatory policies regarding article of faith for service members.
In 2014, the U.S. military began taking steps to give individual troops greater freedom to wear turbans, head scarfs, yarmulkes and other religious clothing with their uniforms. A spokesman for the Sikh Coalition noted at the time that the religious accommodation would have to be approved each time a service member changed assignments and would default to the discretion of their commanders.
Just two day’s before the Army released its decision on Singh’s case, three other Sikh soldiers filed a lawsuit seeking similar accommodations from the Army. With Singh’s victory and the Army’s promise to “develop uniform standards,” there may be hope for others in a similar predicament.
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