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Anna Karamazina

26.11.2022 15:00

Per court decision, Sikh recruits can undergo USMC training with beards and turbans

No one should have to make a choice between serving God and serving their nation  ‒  this is a claim made by Eric Baxter, an attorney for a religious liberty legal group representing the Sikh recruits.

A federal appeals court in Washington has issued a preliminary injunction allowing two Sikh men to undergo recruit training for the United States Marine Corps while keeping their turbans and beards, which are to be considered religious symbols.

Milaap Singh Chahal and Jaskirat Singh filed a lawsuit against the Marine Corps in April, saying that the military branch violated their First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion by refusing to provide them a complete religious exemption.

The following Five Ks constitute Sikh articles of faith:  kanga (wooden comb), kesh (unshorn hair), kachera (undergarments), kara (metal bracelet), and kirpan (ceremonial knife).

The court also returned the prior denial of a third Sikh man's appeal to the United States District Court for additional review.

According to the statement released by Sikh Coalition senior attorney Giselle Klapper, their clients are now out of the 'legal limbo' that has kept them from their professions of service for over two years.

As added by Klapper, the plain reality is that articles of faith do not stand in the way of effective work performance – neither in the USMC, nor in any other public or private sector.

According to the Marine Corps' grooming standards, Sikhs could maintain their beards and unshorn hair under a turban while on duty, but they were prohibited from doing so during combat mission and basic training.

The Marines say that allowing Sikhs to grow beards will undermine regiment homogeneity among the recruits as well as cause a safety concern in any combat zone, as stated in the lawsuit.

According to Eric Baxter, an attorney at Becket who is also advising the Sikh men, the judgment invalidates it as a breach of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Marine Corps has not provided an explanation why it cannot use the same or comparable accommodations that the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard offer in recruit training, according to Judge Patricia A. Millett's opinion.

As part of the lawsuit, attorneys representing the recruits stated that the US Army has a five-year record of properly accepting Sikh troops, and that the US Air Force has welcomed Sikhs with particular articles of faith for several years.

Furthermore, Navy regulations permit Sikh sailors who have been given a religious accommodation to maintain a turban. Sikh sailors are also not required to put on military headgear on top of their religious head covering if doing so would contradict their truly held religious views, according to the regulations.

Millett also mentioned that the allowances have already been provided for other Marine recruits' beards, hair, and other personal physical indicia.

Medical exemptions are granted for beards and full-sleeve tattoos in the Marine Corps.

"No one should have to choose between serving God and serving country," declared Baxter.

"Sikhs have a long tradition of serving in militaries around the globe, motivated by their religious teaching to defend the defenseless. We are grateful that these Sikh recruits can continue that tradition - the ruling was made right in time for them to enter boot camp ," Baxter further shared in a statement on Twitter.

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