January 23, 2017 (Washington D.C.) – In 2017, the U.S. Army has granted five additional observant Sikh American soldiers enduring religious accommodations, permitting each of them to serve with their religiously mandated turbans and beards. This new wave of accommodations is the largest increase in Sikh soldiers since the Department of Defense banned visible articles of faith in 1981.
The decision comes just after the U.S. Army updated their rules governing religious liberty that significantly improve the standards for Sikhs and other religious minorities who seek to serve their country with their articles of faith intact. The new rules, made public on January 4th, eliminate bureaucratic hurdles that had previously discriminated against Sikhs.
Private Shabaddeep Singhjammu, an Infantry Recruit who was born and raised in Elk Grove, California, vowed to follow a path of service after tragically losing his brother in 2013.
“I’m thankful to the Sikh Coalition for securing my right to serve my country and faith because it has been a lifelong goal. I’m now honoring my brother while pursuing a career that serves our nation without compromising my beliefs.”
This development brings the new total to 14 Sikh Army soldiers for whom the Sikh Coalition has secured religious accommodations. Under the previous policy, these accommodations involved a burdensome case-by-case process; were brought up the chain of command to the secretary-level; and were subject to annual review and possible revocation. Now, they can be granted at the brigade-level and can only be revoked if the Army identifies a specific, concrete hazard. This policy does not apply to the other branches of the U.S. military.
Since 2009, the Sikh Coalition and pro bono counsel, Amandeep Sidhu, with his team from the law firm McDermott Will & Emery, have led relentless advocacy efforts to end religious discrimination by our nation’s largest employer. In 2014, we also added Becket Law to our legal team. In the last year, the Truman National Security Project has also been an instrumental partner on this campaign, adding critical government connections and policy expertise.
“After a 35-year presumptive ban on observant Sikhs, our nation’s largest employer has taken a vital step in embracing policies that reflect the rich diversity of our nation. We look forward to permanent policy changes across all branches of the military so that all religious minorities can freely serve without exception.”
Sikh Coalition Legal Director, Harsimran Kaur