April 11, 2016 (Washington D.C.) - The U.S. Army granted three observant Sikh American soldiers long-term religious accommodations on Friday, permitting them to serve with their articles of faith intact. Two have been accommodated in the Army National Guard, and one in the U.S. Army Reserve. With the Army’s recent approval of a decorated Sikh-American Army captain, in just over a week, four Sikh soldiers have received landmark religious accommodations to serve their country without being forced to compromise their faith.

“We commend the U.S. Department of Defense for its decision to allow these soldiers to serve with their religious turbans and beards,” said Sikh Coalition Legal Director Harsimran Kaur. “However we know, the federal court knows, and even our nation’s largest employer, the DoD, knows that engaging in case-by-case, burdensome accommodation processes while enforcing a discriminatory ban is illegal and indefensible.”

Watch U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, endorse the Sikh right to serve.

The Sikh Coalition filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Army pursuing accommodations for Specialist Kanwar Singh, Specialist Harpal Singhand Private Arjan Singh Ghotra on March 29th so that each could begin Basic Combat Training with their respective units in May. The Becket Fund and the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery serve as co-counsel in their legal cases. The lawsuit was filed after the U.S. Department of Defense ignored a written demand letter that was sent on March 23rd.

“I will proudly wear my articles of faith with my military uniform,” said PVT Arjan Singh Ghotra. “I am excited and honored to have the opportunity to serve my country as an observant Sikh in the Virginia National Guard.“

PVT Ghotra, a 17 year-old, has been accommodated to serve in the Virginia Army National Guard and will continue his service while attending George Mason University this fall. SPC Kanwar Singh has been accommodated with the Massachusetts Army National Guard, and SPC Harpal Singh, a California Telecommunications Engineering Specialist, has been accommodated to serve with the U.S. Army Reserve through its MAVNI program, available for non-U.S. citizens with critical foreign language skills. All three are scheduled to attend basic combat training with their respective units this May.

"Although we are encouraged that the door continues to open for observant Sikhs to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, it’s time for the Department of Defense to remove all religious barriers to service once and for all,” said Amandeep Sidhu, partner at McDermott Will & Emery. “The presumptive ban on Sikhs violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the U.S. Constitution. Our military must permanently change its deeply flawed policy.”

In November 2015, 27 retired U.S. Generals called on the U.S. Department of Defense to eliminate the ban. This letter joins the 105 Members of Congress, 15 U.S. Senators, and 21 national Interfaith and civil rights organizations, who have previously signed letters in support of American Sikhs’ right to serve.

“For decades, Sikhs have been excluded from serving our country because of their faith while many other countries recognize their valor and patriotism—and benefit from it,” said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at the Becket Fund. “The Army’s current agreement to stop discriminating against these individual soldiers is an important step, but the court should still issue a ruling to extend that protection to all Sikhs.”

In concert with co-counsel, The Sikh Coalition will continue to pursue legal claims on behalf of each of the recently accommodated soldiers to ensure that the Army moves swiftly to establish uniform standards for the service of observant Sikhs and removes discriminatory monitoring and reevaluation provisions that leave open the possibility that the accommodations could be rescinded at any time.

For more information about the Sikh Coalition’s military campaign and the facts surrounding the military ban, click here. To schedule interviews with legal and policy experts from the Sikh Coalition, McDermott Will & Emery, or the Becket Fund, please contact Mark Reading-Smith or Jagmeet Singh.