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Army Lets Three More Sikh Soldiers Wear Turban, Beard, Long Hair

  • Harpal Singh (Photo: The Sikh Coalition) Harpal Singh (Photo: The Sikh Coalition)
  • Arjan Singh Ghotra (Photo: The Sikh Coalition) Arjan Singh Ghotra (Photo: The Sikh Coalition)
  • Kanwar Singh (Photo: The Sikh Coalition) Kanwar Singh (Photo: The Sikh Coalition)

Just weeks after three enlisted Sikh soldiers filed a federal suit asking a judge to issue an injunction against the Army's demand they shave their beards, cut their hair and not wear their turbans in uniform, the service said they can wear such articles of faith.

Even so, an attorney representing the enlisted personnel say the case filed with U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., last month will go forward.

"The Army's decision is not legally binding … and may be withdrawn at any time," said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Fund for Religious Liberty. "In fact, the Army has already stated that the accommodations will be re-evaluated in approximately one year."

The plaintiffs include Spc. Harpal Singh, a member of the U.S. Army reserve who enlisted under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program; Spc. Kanwar Singh of the Massachusetts National Guard; and Pvt. Arjan Singh Ghotra of the Virginia National Guard.

Harpal Singh is fluent in three languages the Army deems critical: Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu.

The Army had ordered the men to shave, cut their hair and doff the turbans before they would be allowed to go to basic training.

I will be forever grateful to the Army for at least letting me go to boot camp," Ghotra said in a statement. "I look forward to proving that I can serve as well as anyone and am hopeful the Army will extend my accommodation afterward."

The religious accommodations just announced bring to seven the number of Sikhs serving on active duty in the Army with their articles of faith. The other four are officers.

Sikhs were allowed to wear beards, unshorn hair and turbans with their uniforms from World War I through the Vietnam War. The standard exception to the uniform policy was ended during the Reagan administration by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

"The Army's current agreement to stop discriminating against these individual soldiers is an important step, but the court should still issue a ruling to extend that protection to all Sikhs," Baxter said in a statement Monday morning.

The Defense Department has so far resisted calls by retired senior military officers and more than 100 members of Congress to lift the ban on Sikh articles of faith.

The Pentagon no longer has a blanket ban on the Sikh articles of faith but leaves it up to the individual services to grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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Featured Headlines Army Department of Defense Religion and the Military Army Uniforms

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