Sikh-American Military Officer Secures Right to Wear Turban and Beard

By Kenrya Rankin Apr 04, 2016

After a month in limbo, Sikh-American Army captain Simratpal Singh has received a long-term accommodation from the military that allows him to serve with his beard, unshorn hair and turban, per his religious beliefs.

NBC News reports that Singh received a temporary religious accommodation back in December. He was subsequently asked to undergo non-standard testing that he deemed discriminatory. A U.S. district judge agreed, and issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the testing. Then on Thursday (March 31), Singh was granted the long-term religious accommodation. The Sikh Coalition, which represented the officer in his lawsuit against the military, says Singh is the first Sikh to gain this status in the U.S. military while serving on active duty.

“Captain Singh again proves to our military that the religiously mandated turban and beard do not hinder the ability to successfully serve,” Sikh Coalition legal director Harsimran Kaur said in a press release. “This decision gives hope that our nation’s largest employer is making progress towards ending a policy of religious discrimination.”

Singh graduated from West Point in 2010, but was forced to cut his hair and beard after being denied religious accommodation. He went on to serve in Afghanistan, where he received a Bronze Star. In October, Singh—who works in battalion operations in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia—decided to try again to obtain the accommodation.

“My military service continues to fulfill a lifelong dream,” Captain Singh said in the press release. “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.”

The Sikh Coalition filed another lawsuit last week, representing three Sikh-American soldiers who are suing for religious accommodation.

*Note: Story has been updated to reflect that Singh is the first Sikh to obtain religious accomodation while serving full-time active duty.