The Army Is Making Me Choose Between My Faith and My Country

All my life, I've dreamed of serving my country.

But when I tried to enlist in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program at Hofstra University, I was told I couldn't because of my religious beliefs. I follow the Sikh faith, which requires that I keep my hair long and wear a turban and beard. The ROTC recruiters said I would not be able to enlist unless I complied with all Army grooming and uniform rules, which would require me to immediately cut my hair, shave off my beard, and remove my turban.

I couldn't believe the military was asking me to make the impossible decision of choosing between the country I love and my faith.

Sikhs have had a long and rich tradition of military service in nations across the globe since World War I. Currently, we are allowed to serve in the armed forces of Canada, Great Britain, and India, among others. How is it possible that most Sikhs like me are prohibited from serving in the United States—a nation whose founding principle is religious freedom?

After learning that the Army had granted religious accommodations to several Sikhs and soldiers of other faiths, I decided to apply for one too, but my request was denied. The decision made little sense to me. In addition to religious accommodations that have been granted, the Army allows men to wear beards for medical reasons and wigs to cover baldness. Women may have long hair provided they keep it neat and out of the way. There is no indication that these existing grooming policies and accommodations have caused problems.

That's why I decided to file a lawsuit with the help of the ACLU and UNITED SIKHS. Religious beliefs and practices shouldn't prevent military service where, as in my case, they don't pose any risk to the military and they don't harm others.

In the aftermath of 9/11, many Sikhs were mistaken for Muslims. The Sikh turban and beard were equated with terrorism. Sikhs became the victims of the unfortunate and sad wave of anti-Muslim sentiment that swept many parts of the country, including a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin two years ago.

Barring us from serving in the military because of our religious practices helps reinforce these hurtful stereotypes. It is my hope that, when fellow Americans see Sikhs like me defending this great nation, the misperception of Sikhs being "terrorists" and "foreigners" will fade away. They will start judging Sikhs for who we are, based on our character, as opposed to how we look.

Many of my non-Sikh friends and peers have already joined the ROTC program or enlisted in various branches of the military. We had nurtured our dreams together to join the armed forces ever since we were little kids. I don't want to be left behind just because I'm adhering to the tenets of the faith I was born into.

Choosing between one's faith and serving one's country is a decision that no one should have to make.

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RRR

Can some one point me to where the ACLU has expressed any outrage regarding the City of Houston subpoena of pastors' sermons?

Anonymous

There are other ways to serve your country. Filing a lawsuit is ridiculous. Those rules are set for uniformity. It's a choice to join the military and a choice to practice your religion. In your case, your religion takes priority.

Anonymous

Sorry this has happened to you. Loyal Americans have been denied rights in times of war or great fear. It is too bad you are not judged by your character instead of your faith.

Bones

I do not see how his current appearance will create any issues due to safety. Protective equiptment that is to be worn on the face will still have skin to seal too as long as he keeps it groomed as he has in the provided picture.

Anonymous

He should have gone to Vietnam. They took 'em any way you please, even criminals who didn't want to go to prison and chose war as the alternative to a long sentence.
Sounds farfetched to people of today, but I can guarantee they took them. I lived through Vietnam, and served against my will according to a lottery pick they had in 1969. My number was 12. Seems they took with extreme prejudice guys born in January. Three weeks earlier and I might have been 323. They weren't taking guys born in December the way they were accepting January births.
I can say one thing though; Vietnam cured me of a desire to have any religion in my life, even the one I'd been raised with, which was Christianity.
See a few guys cut in half by a Bouncing Betty, and it'll cure you of any beliefs having to do with a "a loving God."
Because no God existed in Binh Dinh Province on April 24, 1971, unless it was an all-around silent deity.

Anonymous

I believe he should be in jail foe his looks. how do you know if he has a bomb under his turban?

Navy Veteran

Simple choice. If your religion is so all important to you, then it should trump your selfish and worldly desire to join the US Military. Sorry Pal but standards are standards. I cut my hair to Enlist, so can you.

Carlos A Santiago

U.S. Armed Forces have standards and everyone has to do the same... no special treatments...

Anonymous

To the poster above, he is a Sikh, not a muslim. There have been no Sikh bombings against the US or in the US.
Sikhs have a long history of serving in the military and have excelled in that capacity. Still, sometimes one must make choices. It appears that he choses his religious accoutrements over serving in the US military. There is nothing wrong with that. However, the military has its rules.

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