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

Army Regulation 670-1's facial hair standards are a product of the first world war, and conform to the reality of how equipment like the M40 Field Protective Mask work. I.e. the will not seal to a bearded face.

Anonymous

http://www.army.mil/article/36339/sikh-soldiers-allowed-to-serve-retain-their-articles-of-faith

Anonymous

This whole story is a lie... the army isn't MAKING this fool choose anything. Singh is the one with the choice... that being, comply with the army's standards which are there for safety and numerous other practical reasons, or don't join the army.

The military doesn't need self centered religious zealots like Singh, as people like Singh cause more problems and tear groups apart more than anything. A total negative overall.

Singh - grow up, and comply with reasonable standards, or choose a different career path. IT's up to you, fool, not the army,

Anonymous

There are many other industries he would also not be allowed to work due to untrimmed facial hair - those that require fit-tested respirators per OSHA regulations. Last thing they need is an employee suing for hazardous exposure for improperly fitted equipment. Can't work for the railroad, for sure.

Anonymous

Next we will have individuals saying that they want to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, but don't want to go to Basic Training. Code of Conduct, Uniform Code of Justice.

Semper Fi

Anonymous

You want to join the military then follow there rules. A lawsuit is ridiculous

Anonymous

What kind of religion, really, insists on your personal appearance and attire to suit a "gods" prerequisit to serve and worship. NOT the God this country ( USA ) was founded upon. Which, by the way, is the ONLY true God. 'Cause HE says so. By-the-way, sikh, this isn't your country. If it was you should abide by the standards and "rules" and laws set in place by the unimpeachable integrity of those who set them in place. YO ACLU (whatever that stands for now days. Something communist I think) this is NOT a constitutional issue.

Anonymous

I don't expect my last comment to be "approved" for publishing after the site administrators have queued it for moderation. It, after all, would not fit under aclu definition of free speech. They have their own definition of free speech. Where did this kind of power come from? Certainly not the -----------of American people.

Anonymous

There are reasons why the army has its rules. Most are there to save lives. He needs to look up the word "uniform" that is :: all look alike. We all have choices to make and it sounds like he choose his religion. There are things he can't possibly know as a civilian as to why certain rules are in place. He says he can't see why his safety would not be in danger... for instance sailors are no longer allowed to have beards. This is so because the gas masks they wear will not seal with facial hair. So in this case he would be endangering his life and the lives of his shipmates if he were allowed to wear a beard for religious reasons. A lawsuit just doesn't seem as if he loves his Country all that much. It sounds more like he just wants to get his way.

Tonyscorpione

The military has a reason you must be clean shaven and wear other head wear. It's for the safety of the personnel. If there is a need to wear a gas mask, you need a secure seal around the face, and if you need to protect you head, you must wear a helmet

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