For Immediate Release

Primary Press Contact: Graham F. West
Media and Communications Director, the Sikh Coalition, 817-800-8873

Secondary Press Contact: Rajanpreet Kaur
Media and Communications Manager, the Sikh Coalition, 732-823-9266

Sikh Coalition Praises U.S. Air Force Policy Change, Announces First Sikh American to Secure a Religious Accommodation to Serve in the Air National Guard

February 12, 2020 -- The Sikh Coalition commends the United States Air Force’s recent move to clarify the uniform and grooming accommodation process for religiously observant minorities, including Sikh Americans, who wish to serve. We are also proud to share that our client, Airman 1st Class (A1C) Gurchetan Singh, is the first Sikh American to secure a religious accommodation to serve in the Air National Guard.

Finalized on February 7, the new Air Force policy establishes clear grooming and uniform standards for enlisted and officer airmen who are granted accommodations based on their sincerely-held religious beliefs. The policy also clarifies that O-6 level commanders can approve an airman’s request for such an accommodation in no more than 30 days (or 60 days if the accommodation is requested outside of the United States), and that an accommodation, once granted, will generally follow the airman throughout his or her career. While there are certain limited circumstances under which a religious accommodation may not be permissible due to safety considerations, the policy appears to be otherwise comprehensive.

“No Sikh American should have to choose between their religious beliefs and their career ambitions,” said Giselle Klapper, Sikh Coalition Staff Attorney. “Sikhs have served honorably and capably in the U.S. Armed Forces and other militaries around the world, and while we are eager for a blanket proclamation that all observant Sikh Americans can serve in every branch of the military without seeking accommodations, this policy clarification is a great step forward towards ensuring equality of opportunity and religious freedom in the Air Force.”

The Air Force’s clarification closely resembles the U.S. Army’s landmark 2017 policy adjustment, which similarly clarified the terms and process for soldiers requesting religious accommodations. Both of these policy changes are the direct result of the years-long campaign--launched in 2009 by the Sikh Coalition and our pro bono co-counsel at McDermott Will & Emery--that has included extensive advocacy efforts and litigation to ensure that observant Sikhs and other religious minorities are able to serve without compromising their faith.

In addition to celebrating this positive development, the Sikh Coalition is proud to share public information about our client, Airman 1st Class Gurchetan Singh, who is the first Sikh American to receive an accommodation to serve in the Air National Guard. When A1C Singh became a U.S. citizen in 2013, he was inspired to serve in the U.S. military in order to defend the country that had afforded him and his family significant opportunity. A1C Singh’s accommodation was approved in September 2019, and he will soon head to Basic and Technical Training with a specialty in Cyber Transport Systems.

“The Sikh Coalition has helped me realize my career dream while ensuring that I stay true to myself and my faith,” said A1C Singh. “Their legal assistance means that I won’t face discrimination as I step up to serve, and I’m proud to help clear the way for other Sikhs who may want to join the U.S. Air Force by demonstrating that we can serve honorably while maintaining our articles of faith.”

To date, the Sikh Coalition has helped more than 20 Sikh Americans secure accommodations to serve in the U.S. military, and our advocacy work in favor of policy changes across all military branches has paved the way for more than 60 observant Sikh Americans to serve with distinction. Securing further permanent policy changes to end discrimination by our nation’s largest employer, the U.S. Department of Defense, will be critical to ending discrimination in workplaces across the country.

The Sikh Coalition continues to build on more than ten years of work to ensure equality of opportunity and religious freedom for Sikhs and other religious minorities who wish to serve in the U.S. military. To learn more about this campaign, the 2017 Army policy change, or the new Air Force policy change--or to be connected with former clients or other organizations involved with this work--please contact Graham West or Rajanpreet Kaur.