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

Its a choice. This has nothing to do with your religion or faith, its the standard ALL other members must adhere to so why should they make an exception for you? So you think you should get special priviledge because you are using you faith or religion as an excuse? Yes excuse, either you want to be in the military or you don't. People with disabilities don't get in either, and its not a choice for them, yet I don't see them suing.

I'm sick of this ridiculous overly PC environment - grow up, make a choice, and stop asking the world to make exceptions for you.....its called "coping" so get on with it you whiner.

Anonymous

This guy is another moron trying to push his rhetoric on another societies already established military. You don't like it GO HOME!!! The military has many standards, that if you are not willing to live up to, you will not be allowed in. This includes Grooming standards. The strict grooming standards are not to go against your religion. They are there to protect you IDIOT!!! Someone here said "I don't see a problem with the way he looks" and its not so much the looks that are the concern. Cleanliness and being able to do things like create a proper seal around your face when you put on your gas mask if you're gassed or in a viral outbreak situation that encompasses an airborne pathogen. That's only one of the many reasons why there is a grooming standard in the Military that may go against your religious code, but honestly you sign a contract to join the military. No one is asking you to serve. You are CHOOSING to serve, which in my eyes gives you no rights at all as it pertains to this particular situation.

Anonymous

Go join ISIS!!

Anonymous

I would like to say that I am surprised by some of the absolute ignorance that I have read in some of these responses. But I am not. As for the Army, I believe that they need have a serious re-evaluation of who is the friend and who is the enemy. They have enlisted some of the worst racist and bigots and individuals who are using their learned skills to commit race wars against the Americans they have sworn to protect.

Racism and bigotry is one if not our worst enemy in this country. And while I can understand uniformity, I believe that it should more so be towards the love and protection of ones country, and less emphasis on whether or not an American citizen wears a turban. How about a turban that is fatigued colored? Would that help him to blend in during war?

In any case, we first need to address the racism and bigotry in our armed forces especially the Army before we can start really enlisting some of those who would promise to be great soldiers for us.

And to the one who said filing a lawsuit is ridiculous, filing a lawsuit is a legal right and part of how our judicial system works in starting to make changes in the laws that need to change.

Anonymous

Please tell me why he should be aloud to change the rules that every other person follows. This is a voluntary Military. Now if the draft was infects then maybe. The rule and guide line where there before any of you were born. So yes it is part of Military history and faith. When I talk about Military faith. I mean every one here has to follow the same rules and regulation no matter there rank. And that every one has to work together to complete the mission and to survive. If you never serviced the you will never truly under stand what I am talking about. Just so you know I am Native American. So I know about having to give up apart of my self. Yet even after I had my head shaved for basic. I realized that it did not change who I am or my faith I know the Great Spirit still look down on me with pride. And it never crossed my mind since. So I say he has to follow the rules just like me and every other recruit before him.

Anonymous

People that fought for this country enabled him to practice his religion.
Army has rules, play by the rules or get a job with customer service.

Anonymous

Because the military is all about your individual rights. Shave, cut the hair, serve with pride and go back to your tradition when your service is done. Assimilation goes a long way toward acceptance

Anonymous

Then join the Indian Army. Grooming rules are in place for a reason. You can not properly seal a chemical weapon mask with a beard. Your helmet will not fit properly to protect your cranium if you have too much hair.

MyWag

@ RRR
RRR Says: Nov 12th, 2014 at 7:31pm

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

Happy to help RRR.

The case involves a law passed by Houston known as 'HERO'. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a law that would protect LGBT individuals and other targeted groups from discrimination.

A coalition opposed to the law, known as 'No Unequal Rights' was formed. The supplied training for signature collecting to put the issue on the ballot.

The training of the signature takers and the validity of some of the names are at issue and therefore the religious groups and churches who undertook this have been subpoenaed to disclose their methods.

Very simple. There's no 'right to murder' in a church or religion and there's also no 'right to commit voter fraud'.

Anonymous

@2. Completely agree!!! I don't you could cut it in the American military anyway. You don't like the rules, piss off!!!

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