The US Army on 31 March granted a long-term religious accommodation to Captain Simratpal Singh, a decorated Sikh-American officer and combat veteran, to serve with a beard, long hair and turban in accordance with his religious beliefs. Singh, who shaved his beard when he was admitted to West Point 10 years ago, asked the Army to allow him to wear a beard and turban in October.
In December, the Army granted Singh a temporary accommodation in response to a discrimination lawsuit, The New York Times reported. The temporary accommodation was scheduled to expire in February, leading the Army to order Singh to days of gas mask and helmet testing. Singh sued, claiming fellow soldiers—including those with beards—were not forced to similar testing and said the test were akin to religious discrimination.
The Army finally granted the Army Ranger and Bronze Star recipient a permanent accommodation in a court document stating it would only be revoked if the beard and turban influenced "unit cohesion and morale, good order and discipline, health and safety."
"Captain Singh again proves to our military that the religious mandated turban and beard to not hinder the ability to successfully serve," said Sikh Coalition Legal Director, Harsimran Kaur, in a statement. "This decision gives hope that our nation's largest employer is making progress towards ending a policy of religious discrimination."
According to the Sikh Coalition, which represented Singh along with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery, Singh is the first Sikh American to receive religious accommodation while already actively serving in the US Army. "My military service continues to fulfill a lifelong dream," Singh said. "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."
NBC News reported that Sikh Americans were allowed to serve in the US military with their articles of faith intact before 1974. However, stricter grooming regulations were put in place in 1981, which allowed religious accommodations on a case-by-case basis. Sikh will continue in his battalion operation staff position at Ft Belvoir, Virginia.