Capt. Simratpal Singh is a decorated combat veteran. He is also a practicing Sikh.
The dedicated officer has committed more than 10 years to the U.S. Army – and sacrificed his religious convictions to do so.
In December, Singh was granted a temporary accommodation which permitted him to begin wearing his turban and beard. Though he originally passed standard soldier safety tests, he suddenly found himself under new orders to complete further gas and safety helmet evaluations. Soldiers with medical accommodations that allow beard growth are not required to complete any other fittings or tests.
— Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf) April 1, 2016
The incongruence between medical and religious accommodations over the same physical attributes didn’t add up. Clearly Capt. Singh was being singled out because of his religion. A U.S. District Court in D.C. ordered fair treatment for the soldier.
“My military service continues to fulfill a lifelong dream…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.”
According to Singh’s legal representation, there are approximately 50,000 U.S. soldiers serving with permanent beard exemptions for health. Until now, only three religious exemptions have ever been granted. In Singh’s case the Army conceded that approving medical beard exemptions, but not for religious, is discriminatory.
The soldier and legal team hope this victory will encourage the military to move beyond arbitrary case-by-case accommodations.
Though mighty, this achievement isn’t the end of the road for Sikh American soldiers. The Sikh Coalition, The Becket Fund for Religious liberty, and McDermott Will & Emery remain hard at work, filing a lawsuit on behalf of Sikh-American soldiers hoping for religious accommodation before basic training begins.
“Captain Singh’s case is a painful study in the onerous hurdles for observant Sikh Americans who want to serve their country. With this historic accommodation, we hope that the U.S. military will finally move past protracted, case-by-case religious accommodations and recognize that the time for permanent policy change is now.”
Featured image via NBC by Jovelle Tamayo / The Sikh Coalition