In November of 2021, with assistance from the Sikh Coalition as well as the law firm BakerHostetler and the Sikh American Veterans Alliance, Jaskirat Singh submitted a request for an accommodation to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) with his articles of faith. In February of 2022, Mr. Singh 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 (also known as ‘boot camp’).
As a result, the Sikh Coalition, our pro bono co-counsel at Winston & Strawn LLP, and our litigation partners at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Baker Hostetler (with support from the Sikh American Veterans Alliance) sued the U.S. military on behalf of Mr. Singh and our additional USMC clients. The first stage of this litigation ultimately resulted in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals granting Mr. Singh an injunction in December of 2022 that allowed him to proceed to Recruit Training with his articles of faith intact; he graduated from that program in August of 2023 as Private First Class (PFC) Singh.
PFC Singh was born in Texas. Inspired by the military service of his grandfather, he dreamed of a career in the U.S. military from a young age; he considered a career in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force before ultimately deciding on pursuing enlistment in the USMC. PFC Singh’s ultimate goal is to be a Marine who serves as diplomatic security for U.S. embassies abroad. PFC Singh graduated from Klein Forest High School in Houston, TX, in 2020, where he excelled in JROTC for all four years. He previously volunteered teaching Basic Marching Drill to Army ROTC cadets at another local high school.
Despite PFC Singh’s success at Recruit Training, issues remain with his current incomplete and insufficient accommodation: specifically, he would be forced to shave his beard when deployed and receiving Hostile Fire Pay or Imminent Danger Pay. Litigation remains ongoing in his and our other clients’ wider case in an effort to resolve this issue and ensure.
To the Sikh Coalition’s knowledge, the USMC has yet to grant a full and complete accommodation for a Sikh to serve with their articles of faith intact; you can read more about our first USMC client, Captain (Capt) Sukhbir Singh Toor, here. Full accommodations for Capt Toor and PFC Singh will pave the way for Sikhs to join and serve honorably in the USMC with their turbans and beards as they have in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force; every additional accommodation, moreover, is a step closer to broader policy change that will eliminate employment discrimination throughout the entirety of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Why It Matters
Sikhs have pursued successful careers in militaries throughout the world while maintaining their articles of faith, and have served honorably in the U.S. military since the First World War; however, in 1981, the U.S. military changed its policy and banned from service observant Sikhs who wear turbans and keep unshorn hair and beards.
The Sikh Coalition’s campaign for equal opportunity in the U.S. military is modeled on similar campaigns spearheaded by our allies in the African American, LGBTQ, and women’s rights communities. The U.S. military is the nation’s largest employer. If the U.S. military finally allows observant Sikhs to serve with their articles of faith, this will set a strong, positive precedent and make it much harder for employers to discriminate against Sikhs in other industries.