SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — Three Sikh-American soldiers filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense this week, according to The Sikh Coalition. Private Arjan Singh Ghotra, Specialist Harpal Singh and Specialist Kanwar Singh wish to serve their country, but also seek to continue practicing their Sikh faith and keeping their Sikh articles of faith — turban, unshorn hair, and beard — intact.
It’s the second such event in as many months for the U.S. military — Capt. Simratpal Singh, a decorated officer of the United States Army who served in Afghanistan, has been engaged in an ongoing battle regarding maintaining his beard and long hair while in uniform. He won a temporary restraining order on March 4 against additional non-standard, discriminatory testing. A final decision on Captain Singh’s case was just announced and he has been temporarily allowed to keep his beard & turban as a rare army exception.
“Three Sikhs filed suit against the Army to ensure that their requests for religious accommodation are resolved by their basic training ship dates in May,” Harsimran Kaur, The Sikh Coalition’s legal director, told NBC News. “The lead plaintiff has been waiting over seven months. The Army has been failing to make decisions on whether these patriotic Sikhs will be able serve their country while abiding by the tenets of their faith. In doing so, the Army is violating their constitutional and statutory rights.”
The trio of men made requests for religious accommodations months ago, however, they are seeking an answer immediately so that they may begin basic combat training alongside their units in May. Like the aforementioned Capt. Singh, the three men are being represented by The Sikh Coalition, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and McDermott Will & Emery.
“We believe that the court will find that the Army is continuing to discriminate against observant Sikhs, and will enjoin the Army to allow the Sikh plaintiffs to serve with articles of faith intact,” Kaur said.
Prior to 1974, Sikh Americans were permitted to serve in the military with their articles of faith intact. But since 1981, stricter grooming policies have reduced religious requests to a case-by-case basis, and only three have been granted since. However, about 50,000 soldiers have permanent beard exemptions for apparent medical reasons.
During a visit to the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2015, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter extended his personal support to Specialist Kanwar Singh. Additionally, 27 retired U.S. generals, 15 senators and more than 100 members of the House of Representatives have expressed their support of Sikh American’s being allowed to serve in the military with their articles of faith intact, according to The Sikh Coalition.
“These men are exactly what the Army says it wants: soldiers of integrity, patriotism, and courage,” Eric Baxter, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, said in a statement. “It’s embarrassing that the Army is still quibbling over their beards when militaries in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and India all accommodate Sikhs without a problem. Hasn’t the Army ever heard of Ulysses S. Grant?”