Sikh Captain Simratpal Singh Is Now Allowed to Wear Beard and Turban in the Army
The U.S. Army has granted Captain Simratpal Singh permission to wear a long beard and a turban as part of his military uniform, closing out a case that has stretched some months, according to CNN.
He is the first active duty soldier to be granted this permission, according to the Sikh Coalition.
It was a historic moment when Singh was originally given temporary accommodations for the beard and turban he wears as part of his Sikh religion. Singh, the first Sikh in years to be accommodated by the U.S. military, sued them for discrimination on the basis of religion, ThinkProgress reported.
Officials told Singh he must undergo a series of tests: a helmet test and three days of "intensive safety mask testing," according to the Becket Fund, his legal representation along with the Sikh Coalition. The officials then postponed the tests due to court pressure.
Singh's lawyers argued that these tests violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which they said "forbids the military from suppressing a soldier's religious exercise unless it has a compelling interest that cannot be met in a less restrictive way." If the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act sounds familiar, it's probably because it's a blueprint for state-level laws that have been used to discriminate against LGBT people.
"Captain Singh is more than willing to undergo the same safety testing as all other soldiers, but he objects to defendants treating him differently because of his Sikh religion," the lawsuit stated. The goal of the lawsuit is a permanent accommodation for Singh.
Harsimran Kaur, legal director for the Sikh Coalition, denounced the turban and beard ban in a statement. "This ban is wrong. Sikh Americans have proven time and again that they can serve with honor and excellence," Kaur said. "Our military's work is too hard and too important to be weighed down by unnecessary limitations on who can do the job."
There is also some precedent for Singh to stand on. In 2010, Simran Lamba, the first enlisted soldier to be granted a religious accommodation since the 1980s, was allowed to wear his turban and beard. Since 1984, Army policies barred those items, often preventing Sikhs from enlisting.
Sikh army doctors can grow beards and wear turbans if they get special permission, and in 2015, a Sikh ROTC member was allowed to don a turban and sport a beard — but permission was granted only after he brought ROTC leaders to court.
April 5, 2016, 12:00 p.m.: This story has been updated.