Members of the Sikh religion asking for Marine Corps accommodations for long hair and turbans have gained new allies, including a former secretary of the Army.
Attorneys representing three Sikh Marine Corp recruits — Jaskirat Singh, Aekash Singh and Milaap Singh Chahal — filed an appellate brief as they wait for a ruling on whether the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will grant an injunction allowing them to be inducted without having to cut their hair and shave their beards.
Muslim and Jewish groups, as well as a retired Jewish Army chaplain and an organization of Sikh Army veterans have filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the Sikhs.
Wearing uncut hair and beards are two ritual requirements of Sikhism, a religion that has approximately 30 million adherents globally and an estimated 700,000 followers in the United States. Most males contain their hair in turbans.
Sikhs who enlist in the Army, Navy and Air Force are able to obtain religious exemptions for beards, long hair and turbans
The Marines told the three they could have beards and long hair after completing training, but the Sikhs and their advocates say the requirement not only impinges on their religious free exercise, but also would cause them to violate deeply held religious tenets.
Eric Fanning, Army secretary under President Obama, was joined by two retired Amy officers, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling and Brig. Gen. R. Patrick Huston and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Kendall in a brief supporting the appeal.
The four Pentagon veterans wrote, “Every other branch of the military has offered Sikhs religious accommodations, resulting in a track record of remarkable success, not disaster,” later adding, “the government’s claims of disruption defy credulity.”
They added, “Requiring a recruit to violate the tenets of his faith as a condition of participating in recruit training undermines recruits from within, withdrawing an important source of resilience when soldiers need it most. And telling adherents of one faith — but not others — that they cannot obtain comparable religious accommodations is no way to foster diversity or recruit a highly skilled fighting force.”
Support also came from the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the American Islamic Congress, which also filed a brief supporting the Sikhs. The two organizations asserted Marine Corps restrictions close off that avenue of military service for Sikhs, Muslims, Jews and Native Americans.
“Forcing religious minorities to make the impossible choice between duty to their country and duty to their God causes immense — and irreparable — harm,” the Muslim groups argued.
Other briefs supporting the Sikh Marina recruits came from retired Army chaplain Jacob Goldstein, who received a religious accommodation to keep his full-length beard; the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, the Anti-Defamation League and the Interfaith Alliance; and the Sikh American Veterans Alliance and the Women Veterans and Families Network.