WASHINGTON D.C. (Diya TV) — Capt. Simratpal Singh, an officer of the United States Army, earned a small victory Thursday evening in his ongoing legal battle to wear a turban and maintain his long hair and beard while in uniform.
District Judge Beryl A. Howell ruled that the service must stop “any non-standard or discriminatory testing” involving the tailoring of Capt. Singh’s helmet and gas mask. Singh’s attorneys fought for the ruling after the Army ordered him to participate in a three-day test at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground. In their initial complaint, Singh’s legal team wrote that such tests would “expose Captain Singh to serious consequences of military discipline and the loss of his career for his religious exercise.”
Additionally, the complaint also asks the judge to force the Army to accommodate Singh’s “religious exercise in maintaining uncut hair and a beard and wearing a turban.” There is precedent surrounding the matter, at least three Sikh officers, all working in medical positions, have received the same accommodation. Singh serves with the 249th Engineer Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and has a temporary waiver which expires at the end of the month.
Singh received a Bronze Star for his efforts while serving in Afghanistan, and strictly adhered to the Army grooming and uniform standards from the time he entered the U.S. Military Academy, from which he graduated in 2010. However, late last year, shortly before he was scheduled to begin serving with the 249th, Singh informed his unit’s commanding officer that he intended to report for duty wearing his turban and long hair and beard. He was promised support for the waiver from leadership within his unit, according to the complaint.
Diya TV made contact with a Defense Department spokesman, who would not comment on the case, citing pending litigation.
“We have been advocating for the simple, straightforward, equal right to serve for years and held onto the belief that the military would correct this injustice once they realized their mistake,” said Harsimran Kaur, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, in a news release announcing the court’s ruling. “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 and that’s not something that any court or American should ever tolerate.”
Aside from the defense Singh is receiving from the Sikh Coalition, he has additional backing from the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a group that specializes in religious-freedom cases, as well as lawyers with the international firm McDermott Will & Emery.