Specialist Harpal Singh is an engineer with specialized experience building communications networks in Africa, Russia, and the Middle East. In November 2015, Specialist Singh was recruited by the U.S. Army Reserves for his foreign language skills through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. He previously attempted to join the U.S. Army in 2012 but was told that his religion would prevent him from doing so.
Shortly after joining the U.S. Army Reserves, Specialist Singh submitted a religious accommodation request and sent supplemental materials again in January 2016 but did not receive a prompt response, despite having to report for basic training. To safeguard Specialist Singh’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. Specialist Singh was successfully accommodated by the U.S. Army Reserves. Consistent with the Army’s promulgation of a new policy accommodating observant Sikhs, the Army issued a new accommodation for Specialist Singh in January of 2017 that extends throughout his military career.
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.