Cadet (CDT) Arjan Singh Ghotra is currentHis dedication to U.S. military life and service began long before he was age-eligible to serve. In high school, CDT Ghotra volunteered for both the Civil Air Patrol and the Virginia Defense Force in preparation for a career in military service. As a seventeen-year-old, he was awarded the Virginia Defense Force Medal for his service during his monthly drills.
In December 2015 during his senior year of high school, CDT Ghotra enlisted in the Virginia National Guard. Because of his Sikh articles of faith, he was not allowed to participate in drills with his colleagues. In March 2016, he submitted a religious accommodation request; however, he did not receive a prompt response despite needing to report for basic training in May. To safeguard CDT Ghotra’s legal rights, the Sikh Coalition and its partners at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the law firm McDermott Will & Emery filed a lawsuit on his behalf.
In response to our lawsuit, the U.S. Army realized that the law not on its side, and it temporarily accommodated Cadet Ghotra. He attended basic training during the summer of 2016 and served in the Virginia National Guard. Consistent with the Army’s promulgation of a new policy accommodating observant Sikhs, the Army issued a new accommodation for CDT Ghotra in January of 2017 that extends throughout his military career. CDT is one of the first two observant, turbaned Sikhs 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.