(Washington D.C.) October 23, 2009 - The U. S. Army today announced that it will accept a Sikh recruit, Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, who bravely refused to remove his dastaar or shave his hair as a condition of joining the military.
For the first time in twenty-three years, the community's effort has persuaded the Army to make an exception to the rule barring Sikhs from military service in the United States.
While the Sikh Coalition applauds the Army's action, it remains concerned that today's decision is an exemption to Army policy only for a single, individual Sikh. There has not yet been a change of the overall policy excluding Sikhs from service.
Thank You Sikh Community!
Your Effort Ended 23 Years of Sikh Recruits Being Rejected by the Army
While the Army Has Welcomed This Sikh, It Still Excludes All Other Sikhs
The Coalition is encouraged, however, that the Army has expressed its willingness to review its general policy of excluding Sikhs from service in the coming months.
Two Sikh men, Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, a doctor, and Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, were recruited to join the Army's Health Professions Scholarship Program several years ago. Both maintained their turbans throughout the four year program, and appeared in uniform during specialized Army training, at Army ceremonies, and while working in military medical facilities.
Nevertheless, after completing the program, they were told that they must remove their turbans and cut their unshorn hair and beards for active duty. Rather than abandon their Sikhi, they chose to appeal to Army leadership to end its policy of Sikh exclusion from service. Today, the Army decided to accommodate Captain Kalsi and defer a decision on Captain Rattan's appeal until he completes his dental certification.
"I am overjoyed by the Army's decision to allow me to serve my country," said Captain Kalsi. "Like the many Sikhs who fought before me, I know I will serve America with honor and excellence. It is my hope that the Army will soon allow all Sikhs to serve along with me."
Indeed a number of prominent Members of Congress have called on the Army to welcome all Sikhs, and not just Captain Kalsi, into the military. In August 2009, 43 members of the House of Representatives and 6 U.S. Senators called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to allow all Sikhs to serve in the U.S. Army. These efforts were led by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in the Senate and Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) in the House.
"I am gratified that the Army has recognized Captain Kalsi's commitment to his faith and his desire to serve our nation in uniform," said Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. "As our Army increasingly engages the world, our engagement is enhanced by having a military that reflects both America's and the world's diversity."
Captain Kalsi and Captain Rattan are represented in their respective appeals by the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and the Sikh Coalition. McDermott filed the original appeals that brought the current matter before the U.S. Army and led to today's decision.
"Throughout the past six months, we have steadfastly asserted that our clients' religious requirements in no way hinder their ability to effectively serve their country," said Amandeep S. Sidhu, McDermott's lead counsel on this case. "We are deeply impressed with the Army's forward-thinking approach in allowing Captain Kalsi to serve with his turban and beard, and we now call upon the Army to consider amendments to a uniform policy that continues to keep out other Sikh Americans from serving in the U.S. Army."
The Sikh Coalition will continue to engage the Army until the general policy of excluding Sikhs from service comes to a just and fitting end. While the case of Captain Kalsi has been successfully resolved, we continue to seek the accommodation of Captain Rattan and move forward in the campaign to end the Army's general policy excluding Sikhs from service.
"We wholeheartedly applaud the Army's decision today," said Amardeep Singh, Program Director, Sikh Coalition. "Sikh inclusion in the Army not only helps our military understand the diverse faiths and cultures that make up America, but also the faiths and cultures where we send soldiers into harm's way. We look forward to the day when the Army welcomes all Sikhs, not just these two young men, to serve."
On the advocacy front, 43 Members of the United States House of Representatives and 6 United States Senators have already written to Defense Secretary Robert Gates requesting that the Army end its policy of excluding Sikhs from service. The Coalition will continue to build support in Congress for this campaign.
The Coalition will also continue to garner positive media coverage on the matter. While major media outlets such as CNN.com, the Associated Press, and Washington Post have covered the issue, more can be done to raise public awareness. The Coalition will also encourage grassroots community members to sign petitions to the Army and write to their Members of Congress. Thus far, over 9,000 people have signed petitions to the Army or sent postcards to their Members of Congress on the issue. With the community's assistance, the Coalition hopes to significantly increase this number.
"As a community, we stand united behind Captain Kalsi and Captain Rattan and their desire to serve freely without sacrificing their Sikhi," said Sapreet Kaur, Executive Director, Sikh Coalition. "We remain steadfast in our resolve to fight until the Army ends its irrational policy of discrimination against Sikhs. I call upon the community to strengthen its resolve to see this matter through until we have justice."
A Thank You to Our Community Partners
The Coalition would like to thank the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP, and Amandeep Singh Sidhu, Esq., McDermott's lead attorney on the matter. In 2009 alone, McDermott attorneys have donated over $150,000 in pro bono legal services to the Sikh Coalition on this issue.
The Coalition would also like to thank Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) and Jasmeet Kaur Ahuja on his staff for the countless hours they devoted to ensure a successful resolution of Captain Kalsi's matter.
Several Sikh groups worked together to achieve this goal. The Coalition would like to thank the Sikh Council on Research and Education for the many hours it invested in outreach on Capital Hill, as well as the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund and United Sikhs. Finally the Coalition would like to thank the thousands of Sikhs who signed petitions to the Army's leadership and contacted their Members of Congress.
Our collective efforts as a community have resulted in a major step forward in the campaign to end the exclusion of Sikhs from the military. We look forward to working together to bring about a complete end to the U.S. Army's bar on Sikh service. For now though, we celebrate the major step forward represented by Captain Kalsi's accommodation.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges all Sikhs to practice their faith fearlessly. If you are barred from joining the military or any type of employment because of your Sikh faith, please report the incident at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more, please visit our Campaign Media Center or email us at email@example.com.
Past Advisories on the Issue: