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Court Orders Army to Delay Tests of Sikh Officer's Beard, Turban

Army Capt. Simratpal Singh (Photo: Facebook)
Army Capt. Simratpal Singh (Photo: Facebook)

The U.S. Army will hold off until Friday an order requiring a Sikh Army officer to undergo three days of gas-mask and helmet testing it claims are necessary to determine whether he may continue wearing the long hair and beard required of his religion.

Capt. Simratpal Singh, a 10-year Army officer, was granted a temporary waiver from the Army's beard, hair and uniform regulations in December. Though he passed a critical gas-mask test to ensure the beard would not interfere with a tight seal, the Army ordered him to take additional special tests designed to show he can effectively wear a helmet.

But in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Monday, the Army had "to retreat on the order," Singh's lawyer said.

"Under vigorous questioning from Judge Beryl A. Howell, Army lawyers conceded that they did not need to subject Captain Singh to immediate testing that no soldiers permitted to wear beards for medical reasons have ever had to endure," Eric Baxter of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said in a statement following the proceeding.

The Army has not responded to Military.com's request for comment.

Both sides are scheduled to be back in court on Tuesday, when the Army is expected to make its case to the judge, Baxter said.

The Army will hold off on the order until Friday, by which time the court hopes to make a final decision, a spokesman for The Becket Fund said. The non-profit fund takes up cases involving the free expression of religious traditions.

Singh is a West Point graduate who, until getting the temporary waiver from the Army, served without the hair, turban and beard that are considered articles of faith by devout Sikhs.

He is only the fourth Sikh to be granted permission by the Army to wear the facial hair and turban since the all-out ban on them was imposed by Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger during the Reagan administration.

In December, 27 retired Army and Air Force generals wrote to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, asking him to lift the ban on Sikh beards, hair and turbans. The Pentagon has declined to act, instead continuing its policy of permitting each service to determine its policy.

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

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