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Sikhs challenge US Army’s ban on turbans, beards
The Sikh Coalition is attempting to convince the Army to allow two Sikh officers to wear religious headgear and not be forced their beards.
Military service is in Capt. Kamaljit Singh Kalsi’s blood.
His father and grandfather were part of India’s Air Force. His great-grandfather served in the British Royal Army. So when U.S. Army recruiters talked to him during his first year of medical school, he readily signed up.
But his plans to go on active duty in July are now on hold. An Army policy from the 1980s that regulates the wearing of religious items would mean he would need to shave his beard and remove the turban he wears in accordance with his religious precepts.
Kalsi and another Sikh man with the same concerns, Second Lt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, are the centerpieces of an advocacy campaign launched by the Sikh Coalition as it tries to persuade the Army to let them serve without sacrificing their articles of faith.
“I’m an American, there’s no reason why I can’t serve,” Kalsi, 32, said.
And there is no reason you can’t serve, Mr. Kalsi – provided you comply with Army regulations, customs and courtesies. The turbans your religion wears do not conform to the Army’s uniform policies, which state:
(2) Soldiers may wear religious headgear while in uniform if the headgear meets the following criteria.
(a) It must be subdued in color (black, brown, green, dark or navy blue, or a combination of these colors).
(b) It must be of a style and size that can be completely covered by standard military headgear, and it cannot interfere with the proper wear or functioning of protective clothing or equipment.
(c) The headgear cannot bear any writing, symbols, or pictures.
(d) Personnel will not wear religious headgear in place of military headgear when military headgear is required (outdoors, or indoors when required for duties or ceremonies).
The Sikhs are trying to make this out to be an equality issue, but it’s more than that. It’s a standards and uniformity issue. When wearing the uniform, all Soldiers should look alike – gender issues notwithstanding. It’s also a safety and readiness issue. There is no way for the chemical mask to seal against a bearded face. That places him and his troops in danger if they come under a chemical or biological attack. And if they decide to make him non-deployable due to his religious beliefs, someone else has to go in his place.
The Army should stand by its own regulation. Otherwise, it risks credibility with ANY uniform issue.