Sikh Army captain sues DoD to keep beard, turban


A Ranger-qualified, Bronze Star-wearing captain filed suit against the Defense Department on Monday seeking permission to wear a turban and maintain his long hair and beard while in uniform in adherence to his Sikh faith — a permanent waiver already awarded to at least three other Sikh soldiers.

The court filing, obtained Tuesday by Army Times, also alleges that Capt. Simratpal Singh, assistant operations officer with 249th Engineer Battalion out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, has been asked to undergo "nonstandard, discriminatory testing" involving the fit of his gas mask and helmet as a result of his request for religious accommodation, including orders to report for a multiple-day test at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

Army lawyers agreed to postpone those tests after being questioned Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell, according to a news release from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm that specializes in cases involving religious freedom and expression.

The tests will be delayed until Friday, said a spokesman for the Sikh Coalition, which also has attorneys representing Singh. A final decision on the tests could come Wednesday.

“We believe the Court will end the Army's discriminatory ban on observant Sikhs in the military,” Harsimran Kaur, legal director for the Sikh Coalition, said Monday. “Sikh Americans have proven time and again that they can serve with honor and excellence.”

The suit, filed in Washington, D.C., seeks to stop these tests on various grounds, including assertions that they limit Singh's freedom of speech and right to practice his religion.

Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, a Defense Department spokesman, said via email that DoD "provides to the maximum extent possible for the free exercise of religion by all members of the military services who choose to do so," but that the Pentagon did not comment on ongoing litigation.

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