Cadet (CDT) Gurjiwan Singh Chahal is currently a student at the US Military Academy (West Point). He was inspired by both his family history and local community members to serve in the military. His great-grandfather served with a Sikh regiment in the British Army during World War I, and his uncle served in the Indian Air Force. Growing up near Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan, he attended air shows and met service members. He always believed that serving in the military would best allow him to give back to his country.
CDT Chahal learned of West Point after watching a documentary on the college in the 9th grade. He believed that the college would be a great fit for him – attending would allow him to serve his country while obtaining an excellent education. He made it his goal to attend West Point; to that end, he studied very hard throughout high school, became very physically fit, and volunteered for two years at a local hospital. In the fall of 2016, CDT Chahal applied for and obtained early admission to West Point.
CHT Chahal then contacted CPT Simratpal Singh and requested help to obtain a religious accommodation to attend West Point with his Sikh articles of faith intact; CPT Singh directed him to the Sikh Coalition.
Represented by the Sikh Coalition, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the law firm McDermott Will & Emery, CDT Chahal filed a religious accommodation request with West Point in February of 2017. Consistent with the Army’s promulgation of a new policy accommodating observant Sikhs, the Army issued an accommodation for CDT Chahal in April of 2017, which applies to the duration of his Army career. CDT Chahal is now one of the first two observant turbaned Sikh men to enroll at West Point.
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, the U.S. military in 1981 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 article of faith, this will set strong positive precedent and make it much harder for employers to discriminate against Sikhs in other industries.