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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Anonymous

I don't understand how he, or the ACLU, can claim the gentleman has a 'right' to join the U.S. military and be excused from its uniform dress and grooming requirements. Where is the precedent for that?

Higgins

Listen, buddy, the military has the same expectations of EVERYONE. The purpose of cutting your hair and wearing a uniform is to remove the "I" component of your personality and make you part of an institution that places the whole above the individual. If you can't be willing to do that then you don't belong in the military.

JessCNY

I wish the military would change their rules/requirements. If women can wear hair tied up and back, men should be able to, too. I'm atheist but believe that America should be the one nation in the world that respects religious pluralism and shows tolerance. Good for you. I'll be waiting to hear what happens here.

Anonymous

I was getting ready to donate a chunk of change to the ACLU until I saw that they have taken on this case. Nobody has a "right" to serve in the military. For that matter, nobody in their right mind would even WANT to serve in the U.S. armed forces. This young man is delusional in two conflicting ways at once -- and the ACLU seems to feel he should be allowed to cultivate both of his delusions simultaneously without being confronted on either of them. I don't think I'll be writing y'all a check after all.

Anonymous

the grooming standard are for uniformity, and to be fair, you can wear a moustache. If he gets to join he will probably complain that he gets picked on for wearing a turban

Anonymous

In no way is Mr. Singh being denied for his RELIGION. It has nothing to do with Religion, it has to do with grooming standards, which exist for more than good looks. One important reason that beards and turbans are not authorized is that your GASMASK will not seal properly if there is too much hair, nor will your Helmet fit on your head correctly. The military is about uniformity and standardization, something that millenials cannot wrap thier heads around. The military is about what you bring to the ARMY, not what that army can do for you. Not what you would expect from an Officer, who has to lead by example and enforce good order and dicipline as well as maintain standards, not complain when you don't get treated differently from everyone else.

Anonymous

How about, cut your hair and stop crying

Anonymous

The military is not discriminating against you because of your religious beliefs. They are just requiring you to dress like everyone else. They make the same rules for those of all faiths. I know a small number of Seiks believers I the military, and they have all adapted to the military culture. No one has a right to join the military, you have to qualify. And if you insist on wearing long hair, a beard and a turbin, you don't qualify.

JJS

Anonymous

I am proud to say I helped a Sikh officer in the Army Reserve be selected for resident Command and General Staff College.

Anonymous

The military isn't MAKING him do anything. He VOLUNTEERED.

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