Sikh Student ROTC

Sikh Student Wins Court Case to remain in ROTC with Sikh religious symbols intact.

Last year, Iknoor Singh applied to be a part of the New York-based Hofstra University Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. He was ordered to shave his beard and hair and remove his turban while the application for religious accommodation was being processed. This is a part of the “loosened” rules in terms of grooming that the Army created last year. The problem is that those in the Sikh faith don’t have that “flexibility” to remove these religious symbols while waiting to see if they are approved or denied accommodation. In fact, this prohibits religious accommodation and almost nullifies the need for it.

The 20-year-old finance and business major was assisted in the case by the American Civil Liberties Union. His attorney, Heather Weaver, helped him sue the Army Secretary, John McHugh. Heather Weaver said that she believes there are Sikh students who likely feel discriminated against and like there’s “no place at all for them in ROTC.” However, there are many who want to serve their country, like Singh. This had been a dream of his, and he considers it his “dream career”. Allowing him to pursue it has made him blissfully happy, though he was originally shocked by the decision.

When the case reached trial, the US District Court Judge, Amy Berman Jackson, couldn’t help but focus on the fact that the army has already made over 197,000 exceptions to their grooming requirements. She said that she couldn’t see how accommodating his religious practice could “do greater damage to the Army’s compelling interests” than the large number of shaving exceptions that have already been granted. Many other Sikhs’ had been given accommodations for these beliefs, so why couldn’t he? She proceeded to order the army to stop trying to prevent him from participating in ROTC.

The Sikh Coalition says that, while it is certainly a victory, it doesn’t necessarily equate to Sikh inclusion in the military. When the Army altered their rules, they left plenty of room for religious discrimination to be permitted. It essentially caused a blanket ban that prevents religious minorities from entering the military, according to Simran Jeet Singh. Singh went on to say that the ban “is making us weaker, not stronger.” The staff attorney at Sikh Coalition, Gurjot Kaur, has since urged the Pentagon to remove these loopholes and “give all Americans an equal opportunity to serve in our nation’s armed forces.”

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter