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Sikhs Suing The United States Marine Corps To Be Allowed To Serve [Update]



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Dec 28, 2022 Update: An order for Singh v. Berger was issued on Dec 23, 2022 with the Sikhs prevailing in their case.

the D.C. federal appeals court vindicated the recruits’ right to maintain a religious beard and wear a turban during basic training. The court wrote that the Marine Corps has never explained “why the Corps cannot apply the same or similar [religious] accommodations that the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and Coast Guard provide,” especially in light of “the exemptions already made for other Marine recruits’ beards, hair, and other individual physical indicia,” as well as the Corps’ “own history of flexible grooming and uniform requirements” since its creation in 1775. In light of all this, the Court found that the Sikh recruits “not only have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits—it is difficult to imagine them losing.” 

BecketLaw.org

Original Article:

Yesterday three Sikh men were in federal court to sue the United States Marine Corps in the case Singh v. Berger. The case is simple, Aekash Singh, Jaskirat Singh, and Milaap Singh Chahal are USMC recruits that have been denied religious accommodations to begin basic training and be allowed to keep their beards.

Maintaining unshorn body hair is a common practice for Sikhs in an article of faith known as kesh. As such, the three recruits wish to adhere to their beliefs and keep their beards. 

The Marine Corps has denied their request stating that allowing Sikhs to maintain religious beards during basic training would disrupt troop uniformity and ultimately undermine national security.

However, the USMC does make exceptions, such as allowing recruits to keep beards for medical reasons, such as if they have psuedofolliculitis barbae (razor bumps). 

“These recruits are simply asking to serve our country without having to abandon their religious beliefs,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, a non-profit, public interest legal and educational institution that focused on religious liberty cases. “The Marine Corps should follow in the footsteps of other branches of the military—including the Army and Air Force—that already accommodate Sikh servicemembers who serve with valor and distinction. At a time of severe recruiting shortages, it hurts our military to broadly exclude fully qualified individuals who want to serve.” 

Currently, both the United States Army and Air Force allow Sikhs to serve and make accommodations for their beards. The Navy only makes accommodations for Sikh beards while the sailor is on shore duty. While at sea, beards are not allowed.

Capt. (Dr.) Tejdeep Singh Rattan after exiting the gas chamber during nuclear, biological and chemical training at Camp Bullis, March 17 2001

Sikhs have a long history of service within the United States Military, Bhagat Singh Thind was the first Sikh to be granted permission to wear a turban while on active duty in the US Army in World War I.

Internationally, Sikhs serve in militaries worldwide and have done so with great distinction. 

This raises the question, if the US Army, US Air Force, and militaries around the world can allow Sikhs to serve – why can’t the Marines?

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3 Comments

  • Papa Bear says:

    While I love and respect both the Navy and the Marine Corps, I believe that they may be making a mistake on this one. Sikhs are born and bred Warriors. They would make excellent Marines and great Sailors aboard Navy ships or in SEAL Unites.. I was in the Brown Water Navy (Combat River Ships.) during Vietnam, and can remember some of our crew being allowed to grow mustaches or beards with our CO’s Permission. Of course there have been a bunch of changes in the Navy since I was I. Starting with pay. When my son went in his first paycheck was a lot more than the pay I got for my entire first year. His recruiter, when he found out when I served, informed me that the Navy now had steel ships too. “Smart Ass”! I really liked that Senior Chief though.

    • Billy says:

      “Born and bred warriors”, nonsense. Another grievance group that fails to live up to their reputation.
      See Gurbir S. Grewal

  • james m says:

    From their youth, Sikh boys are required to carry a knife at all times to defend anyone who needs protection. Sounds like they are good candidates for the Marine Corps.

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  • While I love and respect both the Navy and the Marine Corps, I believe that they may be making a mistake on this one. Sikhs are born and bred Warriors. They would make excellent Marines and great Sailors aboard Navy ships or in SEAL Unites.. I was in the Brown Water Navy (Combat River Ships.) during Vietnam, and can remember some of our crew being allowed to grow mustaches or beards with our CO's Permission. Of course there have been a bunch of changes in the Navy since I was I. Starting with pay. When my son went in his first paycheck was a lot more than the pay I got for my entire first year. His recruiter, when he found out when I served, informed me that the Navy now had steel ships too. "Smart Ass"! I really liked that Senior Chief though.

    • "Born and bred warriors", nonsense. Another grievance group that fails to live up to their reputation.
      See Gurbir S. Grewal

  • From their youth, Sikh boys are required to carry a knife at all times to defend anyone who needs protection. Sounds like they are good candidates for the Marine Corps.

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