August 11, 2023 (San Diego, CA) — Today, the Sikh Coalition congratulates our client, U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Private First Class (PFC) Jaskirat Singh, on his graduation from Recruit Training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego. PFC Singh has completed Recruit Training with a historic accommodation that allowed him to maintain his Sikh articles of faith throughout his time at MCRD. He is represented by the Sikh Coalition, Winston & Strawn, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and BakerHostetler, with support from the Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA).
“I am honored to serve my country in the Marine Corps, and proud that I was able to do so while respecting my Sikh faith,” said PFC Singh. “I hope that my graduation sends a clear message to other young Sikhs who are considering military service: Your faith does not have to be a barrier to any career.”
In November 2021, when he was a candidate for the Marines, the Sikh Coalition, SAVA, and our legal partners assisted Jaskirat in submitting a request for an accommodation to serve with his articles of faith. In February of 2022, he was offered an incomplete and insufficient accommodation by the USMC, including a provision that would require him to sacrifice his turban and beard while at Recruit Training. Through legal filings—including our landmark lawsuit against the U.S. government on behalf of Jaskirat and three other clients in April of 2022—we ultimately secured a ruling from the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals allowing him to attend Recruit Training with his articles of faith. Now that he has graduated, he will next head to his assigned military occupational specialty (MOS) school for specialized training.
The larger lawsuit by the Sikh Coalition, Winston & Strawn, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and BakerHostetler against the U.S. government remains ongoing. It includes the broader question of the restrictions imposed in the limited accommodation granted to another one of our clients, Captain (Capt) Sukhbir Singh Toor, and now also used by PFC Singh. Of note, this limited accommodation still prohibits the maintenance of beards on many deployments. We look forward to providing further updates on the case as it moves forward.
“Despite being kept in legal limbo for far too long as he fought to serve, PFC Singh’s determination and perseverance have paid off,” said Giselle Klapper, Sikh Coalition Deputy Legal Director. “As he continues to excel in his profession, we and our partners will continue pushing for him to have a complete accommodation for the remainder of his career in the USMC—and for the USMC to make a systemic policy change that will bring it in line with the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force’s proactive moves to stop discrimination against Sikhs.”
To date, the Sikh Coalition, SAVA, and our partners have helped more than 50 Sikh Americans in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force secure their accommodations; after 12 years of advocacy and legal action—and major policy changes to facilitate religious accommodations in the U.S. Army in 2017 and the U.S. Air Force in 2020—more than 100 Sikh soldiers and airmen now serve with their articles of faith and are able to stay safe while doing so, both at home and abroad.
As a final note, the Sikh Coalition and our partners wish to acknowledge all those Sikh Americans who have served in the USMC without the opportunity to maintain their articles of faith—from our client Capt Toor, who himself secured a historic accommodation from the USMC in June of 2021, to individuals like Corporal Gurpreet Singh, who was killed in action during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011. We continue our work towards systemic policy change in order to ensure that Sikhs in any career field, public or private, are never asked or forced to choose between their career and their religion.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.