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

This is a soft spot for me, I believe in Freedom of Religion, meaning your you won't be discriminated against for your beliefs, or what you believe. Trust me, I was the only Asian guy in my unit, so I know the bigoted garbage that's spoken and done. With that said, the Army isn't telling you to drop your faith, but to follow what everyone has done during their basic training, OCS, Academy etc. which is show that they can sacrifice family, friends to be uniform. It's one thing if you're singled out, it's another if you refuse to conform and be labeled the Affirmative Action ROTC grad. You're drawing fire, and the cover you're crawling to is a glass wall.

What happens when you have to put your kevlar/ACH (helmet) on, or when you realize that beard keeps getting caught on your M-4s adjustable stock? Or when you realize you're getting that special treatment to get in because you law-suited your way in?

Anonymous

Military has had traditionally strict regulations surrounding appearance. The regulations present a uniform, unbiased look among the unit as well as prevent soldiers from being harassed ot discriminated against for not having to follow regulations. In the case of separation of church and state I find it biased that any soldier in any unit should be allowed to break ranks by not following protocol. Furthermore, to have signed a contract agreeing to follow the orders of the Commander-in-chief, the chain of command and the rules and regulations of the United States military doesn't make you discriminated against, it makes you irresponsible for signing a contract without knowing the fine print and a whiner for the consequences. But, the million dollar McDonald's coffee incident has proven that asinine court cases can still win the day.

Anonymous

Simple military is regulated by rules that apply to everyone. Also is a choice you make. Just like religion! If you are not willing tp play by the rules, go elsewhere, military is not for you!

Anonymous

There never any stories about the ACLU fighting age discrimination. Who are they in bed with & how much HUSH money do they receive to look the other way?????

Anonymous

Bones said, "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."
Bones has not served obviously. Otherwise he would understand that it is not about his appearance, his religion or his need to justify his love of country. It is about discipline, loyalty, and the understanding you will have to conform. The military is not an "Army of one". It is about selflessness, conformity, the ability to fight for something you believe in. If Iknoor really loves his country he would understand these things. Just like millions before him have. The sad part about this story is for someone who loves his country so much...he is not willing to sacrifice anything to become the hero he wants to be. I thank God that I am not serving now...because I too would have a hard time sacrificing my beliefs so that two men can get married at a military chapel. Call me old fashioned or call me whatever you want. When I served, it was for a purpose. Not to serve myself.

Anonymous

Dear ACLU, you exist to protect the rights of Americans. Be it their color their religion or their sexual preference. Why do you censor anyone that may disagree with you? Should you not also protect their rights? I'm sure the money is good and you feel righteous when you go home to your loving family. But in the meantime...censoring a response on your own website is like McDonalds not selling hamburgers because they are vegetarians.

Anonymous

If he can't wear his turban and is forced to cut his hair, then christians shouldn't be able to wear crosses, jews cant wear kippahs etc.

If you say its for safety, who's to say a cross necklace won't get caught on something and strangle the poor christian?

If it's for appearance reasons, women can have long hair can't they? As long as it's kept clean and doesn't interfere.

There is no reason this man shouldn't be able to have is religious things if others can have theirs. So much for a nation founded on equality.

Anonymous

Because Christians fight in efficient ways & not dream boy Sikh ways!!!

Anonymous

When you ENLIST in the U.S. military, you CONFORM to the dress code! If you can't do that then DO NOT join the military!

Anonymous

When religion is based on long hair and a beard, it's bullshit like the rest of it.
Man created religion to support moral values, and that part seems to be gone now.

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