UNITED SIKHS Urges Members of Congress to Pass Legislation on Articles of Faith and Military Service
New York/ Washington DC:: There is widespread recognition that Americans who want to enter military service should not have to choose between their faith and their country. On June 22, 2016, UNITED SIKHS met with American Sikh Congressional Caucus, a caucus composed of members of Congress and staff of various not-for-profit civil and human rights organizations. In a briefing, detailing a federal decision recognizing a Sikh's right to serve in the Reserve Officers' Training Corp. (ROTC) without abandoning his articles of faith, UNITED SIKHS urged members of the caucus to call for legislation allowing Sikhs to serve in the armed forces with their faith intact.
The brief to the members of the Caucus read, in relevant part, as follows:
"Today, at this roundtable briefing, UNITED SIKHS advocates for the religious freedoms of all observant Sikh American men and women who want to serve their country in the armed forces. Our objective is to prevail upon members of the United States Congress to introduce legislation that will implement the federal district court's ruling in Iknoor Singh v. McHugh, et al, 4-CV-01906, (Dist. Ct, D.C. ( 2015)), [...]". This legislation would help to eliminate any barriers that interfere with a Sikh's fundamental right to freely exercise his or her personal religious beliefs when joining the armed forces."
The ruling of the U.S. District Court Judge, the Honorable Amy Berman Jackson, holds that the right to religious express must be protected so long as it does not harm third parties. The case demonstrates that, while the armed forces have a compelling interest in maintaining cohesion, uniformity, discipline, readiness, and health and safety in its ROTC programs, the balance of that interests weighs more favorably on the side of protecting Sikh religious freedoms.
Notwithstanding the Sikhs'long history of military service, since 2009, few Sikh American soldiers have received accommodations to serve in the U.S. Army with their articles of faith intact. That is because, according to Army Officials, any accommodation that requires a waiver of the Army's grooming and appearance practices must be forwarded to the Secretary of the Army and must be resolved by an official with a rank no lower than the Deputy Chief of Staff. Requests for the accommodation of religious practices are "assessed on a case-by-case basis" and "considered based on their unique facts; the nature of the requested religious accommodation; the effect of approval or denial on the Service member's exercise of religion; and the effect of approval or denial on mission accomplishment, including unit cohesion."
Sikhs like Iknoor Singh are disadvantaged by the long, arduous and time consuming process they must follow in order to obtain an exemption to join the armed forces. Army officials demanded that Iknoor first abide by its grooming and uniform regulations and remove his turban, cut his hair and shave his beard. Cutting the hair is a violation of the Sikh tenet and the turban dons the hair. Iknoor was forced to file a federal suit in order to vindicate his rights. He did so in order to be allowed to enroll in this college-based program and follow his life-long dream to train to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. military.
UNITED SIKHS and other members of the caucus are working diligently to see such legislation introduced and passed.

Issued by, 
International Civil & Human Rights Advocacy (ICHRA)
By: Wanda Sanchez Day, Esq., Acting National Legal Director
Tel: 1-718-441-6644
E: Wanda.sanchezday@unitedsikhs.org | law-usa@unitedsikhs.org


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