Sikh-American Soldiers Sue DOD for Religious Freedom

By Kenrya Rankin Mar 30, 2016

The war for religious freedom just got a new battlefront. Yesterday (March 29), three Sikh-American soldiers filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

Specialist Harpal Singh, Specialist Kanwar Bir Singh and Private Arjan Singh Ghotra are suing for the right to adhere to their religion while serving in the Army. They want the military to accommodate religious articles of their faith—including turbans, full beards and unshorn hair—when they begin basic combat training this May.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and it also names Lieutenant General James C. McConville (deputy chief of staff for the Army), Ashton B. Carter (secretary of defense), Patrick J. Murphy (acting secretary of the Army) and the Army itself as defendants. The suit comes after the plaintiffs’ March 23 letter requesting rulings on previously submitted religious accommodation requests were unanswered. They are represented by the Sikh Coalition, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and law firm McDermott Will & Emery.

“The Army has been failing to make decisions on whether these patriotic Sikhs will be able serve their country while abiding by the tenets of their faith. In doing so, the Army is violating their constitutional and statutory rights,” Harsimran Kaur, legal director for the Sikh Coalition, told NBC News.

It is the Sikh Coalition’s second suit against the DOD. Last month, the group filed a federal suit on behalf of Captain Simratpal Singh. Singh had previously filed a religious accommodation request and says he was subsequently singled out for non-standard testing. He was granted a temporary restraining order that prevents the testing, and expects a final decision on his case tomorrow (March 31).

“It is unfortunate that in the face of overwhelming evidence that Sikhs should be permitted to serve, we are once again asking whether our nation’s largest employer will embrace religious freedom and diversity or continue to aggressively thwart progress,” Amandeep Sidhu of McDermott Will & Emery said in a press release. “It is a sad day for all Americans when our military is on the wrong side of common sense, the law and our shared American values.”

*Note: Story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Ashton B. Carter’s name.