Capt. Simratpal Singh won a temporary legal judgment in his quest to practice his Sikh religion by wearing a beard and a turban while serving in the U.S. Army. Capt. Singh is a West Point graduate and a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom who earned a Bronze Star for leading more than 150 patrols that cleared IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices] in Afghanistan.
U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell sided with Capt. Singh and issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the Department of Defense from imposing “any non-standard or discriminatory testing for his helmet and gas mask.” The Army had ordered Capt. Singh to take part in a three-day test of the fit of his helmet and gas maks with his turban and beard.
Capt. Singh, who immigrated from India when he was 9 years old, grew up in an observant Sikh family in the Seattle area. He did not shave or cut his hair until 2006 when he joined the Army. Last December, the Army had given Capt. Singh temporary religious accommodation; he has requested to make this permanent and allow him to continue to serve with his turban and beard.
- [NBC News 3.4.2016] Sikh-American Army Capt. Seeking to Serve with Turban, Beard Gets Temporary Win: “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.” Read more
- [Army Times 3.4.2016] Judge in Sikh officer case orders stop to gas mask tests: “The initial complaint, filed Monday, says such tests “expose Captain Singh to serious consequences of military discipline and the loss of his career for his religious exercise.” Read more
- [Army Times 3.1.2016] Sikh Army captain sues DoD to keep beard, turban: “The court filing … alleges that Capt. Simratpal Sing…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” Read more
- [New York Times 2.29.2016] Sikh Soldier Sues Defense Dept., Citing Religious Discrimination: “The Army has permitted about 100,000 troops to maintain beards for medical reasons, and in recent years it allowed Special Forces troops in Afghanistan to grow beards…No other soldiers go through helmet testing.” Read more
- [New York Times 12.13.2015] Sikh Soldier Allowed to Keep Beard in Rare Army Exception: “As part of his faith, he had never cut his hair or beard. But his faith also encouraged protection of the oppressed, which inspired him to join the Army.” Read more
- [Stars and Stripes 12.14.2015] In rare accommodation, Army to allow Sikh officer to wear beard, turban: “In the U.S. military, Sikhs have served in both World Wars, the Korean War and in Vietnam. Few Sikhs have served in recent decades, however, because of a 1981 policy mandating they cut their hair and beards.” Read more
- [Sikh Coalition] Captain Simratpal Singh Biography: “As a child, he admired the military and the principles governing it – such as discipline, self sacrifice,
and service to others. These principles were also intrinsic to the Sikh faith. ” Read more