105 MEMBERS OF CONGRESS URGE DEFENSE SECRETARY TO END SIKH SERVICE BAN
Rajdeep Singh, 202-747-4944
Amardeep Singh, 917-628-0091
March 10, 2014 (Washington, DC) – The Sikh Coalition today applauded the release of a letter by 105 bipartisan members of the House of Representatives to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling for an end to the presumptive ban on devout Sikh service in the U.S. military.
Led by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), the letter requests that the nation’s armed forces “modernize their appearance regulations so that patriotic Sikh Americans can serve the country they love while abiding by their articles of faith.”
“Today’s letter from Congress is a big step forward in our campaign to ensure equal opportunity for Sikh Americans in the U.S. military,” said Rajdeep Singh, Director of Law and Policy for the Sikh Coalition. “Five years ago, 43 members of Congress wrote to the Pentagon in support of Sikh Americans. Today that number has more than doubled. Sikhs have proven time and again around the world that they are excellent soldiers. It’s time for the Pentagon to realize that Sikh Americans are here to stay and that policies of exclusion are inevitably going to fail.”
Devout Sikhs, who are required to wear turbans and maintain unshorn hair and beards, are presumptively prohibited from serving in the U.S. military, even if they are able to pass through basic training and successfully perform their military duties.
Since this policy took effect in 1981, only three Sikhs – Maj. Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, and Cpl. Simran Preet Singh Lamba – have received permission to serve in the U.S. Army while maintaining their articles of faith. Despite their achievements, including promotions, awards, and two successful deployments to Afghanistan, their accommodations are neither permanent nor guaranteed and can be rescinded at any time, even shortly before retirement.
Under new Pentagon rules adopted last January, current and future Sikh service members may even be required to remove their turbans, cut their hair, and shave their beards in violation of their religion while their accommodation requests are pending (a Catch-22).
“Sikh Americans are tired of being judged by our religion instead of our qualifications,” said Amardeep Singh, Program Director of the Sikh Coalition. “There is nothing about our religion that prevents us from excelling in the military, and we hope the Pentagon will give all Sikhs the dignity of being able to prove our abilities instead of throwing needless barriers in our way.”
The Sikh Coalition is the nation’s leading Sikh American advocacy organization. To learn more about our five-year campaign in partnership with the law firm McDermott Will & Emery to secure equal opportunity for Sikhs in the U.S. Armed Forces, please visit our website at http://www.sikhcoalition.org. For media inquiries, please contact Rajdeep Singh at (202) 747-4944 and firstname.lastname@example.org, or Amardeep Singh at (917) 628-0091 and email@example.com.
Letter from 105 Members of Congress to Pentagon
FAQ on Sikhs in the U.S. Armed Forces
Letter from U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to Pentagon
Hill Briefing with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty