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

If you cannot follow regulations then the military is not for you. Rastafarians cannot wear their dreads either. Serve your country some other way.

Anonymous

You're being an idiot. You know darn well the US military has their own rules of appearance. Grow couple and stop hiding behind your religion.

Anonymous

I thought the US already had turbaned Sikhs in the military such as Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi.

Check this link out for Sikhs in the US army who did not give up their religion.
http://www.sikhcoalition.org/army-campaign/sikhs-in-the-us-army/

I think his character to join should be appraised, and not his appearance to be wrongly judged.

By the way, I'm a Canadian Sikh.

Anonymous

Honestly, as retired Marine, my main concern would be his ability to properly wear a helmet. Shrapnel...

Anonymous

Why is when a company or military has a set of standards that someone feels they should not have to follow them and it is okay for them. This is kind of like saying I am blind but I should be allowed to be on the marksman team because it has been my dream all my life. Or to be special forces even though they can't swim and afraid of heights.

Rules are in place for a reason. Even if you don't like them.

Anonymous

That is the rule, it is not singling you out. If you do not want to follow the rules doe not serve! If we break the rules for one must break for all. I truly feel this is downfall of country, we cannot accommodate everyone.

prior enlisted

Beside the fact the grooming standard is in place for sanitary purposes, anyone who has ever undergone NBCC training knows that facial hair prevents a gas mask from making an airtight seal. If you sit through any of the videos that show the results of exposure to chemical agents you would not have an issue in taking part in something that will keep you from dying a horrible death. It's not a question of loyalty to your faith or country, it's something that keeps you alive long enough to perform the function that Uncle Sam invested so much money in training you to do. Do everyone a favor and find another way to supplement the cost of your college education because if this is what holds you back from serving your country then you have no place assuming the role of an officer and leading people. Pansy ass.

Anonymous

the ACLU is censoring comments!

Anonymous

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Anonymous

Dudes a clown. The Army isn't "MAKING" him do ANYTHING. There's no draft. Nobody's forcing him to join the Army. If he chooses to join a club and they tell him there's certain rules he has to abide by in regards to grooming, if he doesn't like it, he doesn't have to join. The choice is his. They shouldn't have to change the rules to accommodate him.

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