Sikhs are suing the US Marine Corps for the right to wear their turbans and beards

Sikhs are suing the US Marine Corps for the right to wear their turbans and beards

In a lawsuit filed Monday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, attorneys for Capt. Sukhbir Singh Toor and three potential recruits allege that the Marine Corps refuses to allow men to keep beards during Most overseas deployments require them to remove their turbans and beards during recruit training. Many Sikhs wear a turban and do not cut their hair or shave their beards as an outward commitment to their faith.

The Marine Corps has said that strict grooming standards are in place to ensure uniformity and safety. But Toor’s lawyers, Milaap Singh Chahal, Aekash Singh and Jaskirat Singh argue that the standards are unevenly applied and violate men’s religious rights, and say accommodations granted by other branches of the US military have shown that Sikhs they can serve and maintain their articles of faith without problem.

“Claims that recruits can prove their allegiance to country and comrades only by betraying the sacred promises they have made to God are precisely what the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment were designed to prevent,” the attorneys in the lawsuit say. demand.

The Marine Corps directed questions about the lawsuit to the Justice Department, which declined to comment for this story.

‘He basically can’t deploy‘

Toor, who currently serves as a field artillery officer in Twentynine Palms, Calif., made the decision to cut his hair and shave his beard when he joined the Marine Corps in 2017 to comply with force policies, according to the demand. Once selected for promotion in 2021, he requested a religious accommodation that would allow him to keep his turban and beard.

The Marine Corps responded to Toor’s request “‘sometimes,’ but with exceptions and caveats that make accommodations meaningless,” the suit says. Initially, she was allowed to keep his hair, but was prohibited from wearing a turban while he was performing ceremonial duties or combat zones. He was allowed to wear a beard only when he was not deployed or “subject to deployment at short notice.”

Toor appealed that decision, and the Marine Corps eventually allowed him to wear his articles of faith during ceremonial functions. Still, as it stands, he cannot wear a turban and beard while deployed to areas where he could face hostile fire or imminent danger pay, according to the suit, a list of 39 countries that includes Israel, Uganda and Turkey.

“When you think about the restrictions that are still placed on her accommodation right now, she basically can’t be deployed,” Giselle Klapper, senior attorney for The Sikh Coalition, told CNN. “He is a field artillery officer – the nature he was trained to be is to deploy, so that extremely limits his career. He now himself he is on the bench ».

Milaap Singh Chahal, Aekash Singh and Jaskirat Singh, the three potential recruits, requested religious accommodations last year, according to the suit. They were granted partial accommodation similar to Toor’s, and were also told that they would have to shave their beards and remove their turbans during the training camp.

“There’s a perception that you can pack your Sikh faith in a suitcase and then take it out after basic training and frankly that’s not how it works,” Amandeep Sidhu, another lawyer representing the four men, told CNN. “That is not the way the Sikh faith works. It’s not the way the laws that apply to the Marine Corps work.”

The four men declined to be interviewed for the story, but Milaap Singh Chahal, Aekash Singh and Jaskirat Singh said in a joint statement that they “remain ready to meet the high physical and mental standards of the Marine Corps because we want to serve our country”. with the best.”

They continued: “However, we cannot give up our right to our religious faith while doing so, not least because that is one of the core American values ​​that we will fight to protect at all costs as proud US Marines.”

Advocates question Marine Corps concerns

The Marine Corps has previously justified its dress and grooming standards by citing an interest in maintaining uniformity in its ranks.

Explaining why it turned down Jaskirat Singh’s accommodation request during boot camp, the Marine Corps said “breaking down individuality and training recruits to think of their team first” was a key part of recruit training, according to the demand.

But in recent years, the Sikh Coalition and its legal partners argue, the Marine Corps has relaxed some standards and embraced diversity in ways that contradict that reasoning. The force currently allows some natural hairstyles for women, and in a memo last year, the Marine Corps updated a policy to allow tattoos on any area of ​​the body besides the head, neck and hands.

“Tattoo policy over the years has attempted to balance the individual desires of Marines with the need to maintain the disciplined appearance expected of our profession,” the US Marine Corps commander wrote. , David H. Berger, in the October 2021 bulletin. “This Bulletin ensures that the Marine Corps maintains its ties to the society it represents and removes all barriers to entry for those members of society who wish to join its ranks ».

Another concern the Marine Corps has raised is the question of whether gas masks would fit properly with a beard. But earlier this year, the lawyers argued, the Marine Corps eased restrictions on Marines who cannot shave due to certain medical conditions, raising questions about why Sikhs were not given full accommodations.

Attorneys for Toor and the three enlistees also pointed to how the US Army and US Air Force recently streamlined their processes for religious accommodations and allowed Sikhs to serve while maintaining their articles of faith, as long as they conform to certain standards of personal cleanliness.

“These are guys who just graduated from high school a few years ago, who want to join the Marines very specifically,” Sidhu said, referring to the three recruits. “They could have taken the relatively easy route and decided to join the Army, where dozens and dozens of Sikhs are serving and there is a track record, but they wanted to be Marines.”

After a similar lawsuit was filed against the Navy alleging a violation of religious rights, the Secretary of the Navy ordered the Navy and Marine Corps last November to study how facial hair affects how gas masks work. , reported the military newspaper Stars and Stripes. That review is ongoing.

Melissa Galbraith
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.