• In a historic ruling, Captain Simratpal Singh becomes the first Sikh-American officer to serve with his religious turban and beard. (The Sikh Coalition)Source: The Sikh Coalition
In a historic ruling, Captain Simratpal Singh becomes the first Sikh-American officer to serve with his religious turban and beard.
By
Shami Sivasubramanian

4 Apr 2016 - 4:04 PM  UPDATED 4 Apr 2016 - 4:04 PM

A decorated Sikh-American army officer has won a historic ruling when it comes to religious freedom and expression - he is now permitted to wear his religious beard and turban as part of his army uniform.

The ruling, which took place last Thursday, comes after Captain Simratpal Singh, an Army Ranger and Bronze Star recipient, sued the US Army for religious discrimination.

Singh began serving when he was 18-years-old. And it was whilst undergoing his education at the prestigious Westpoint military academy, he "accepted defeat", wearing a clean beard and no turban. 

"I had to choose between serving my country and my faith," Singh tells New York Times. "But I promised myself I would find a way back to my roots while also serving my country. I knew I would figure out a way."

"I had to choose between serving my country and my faith. But I promised myself I would find a way back to my roots while also serving my country. I knew I would figure out a way," says Singh.

However after requesting permission to wear his religious garb and have a full beard last October, the army granted him "temporary accommodation" in December, allowing Singh to wear his religious turban and have a beard.

But just short of the temporary accommodation's expiration in February, Singh was asked to report for days of arduous gas mask and helmet testing, a test none of his other colleagues were subject to.

Singh found the request to be discriminatory, citing that he was only subject testing because of his turban and beard, both which could be seen as impediments when wearing helmets or gas masks. He hence brought legal action against the army.

Represented by The Sikh Coalition, this ruling makes Singh the first Sikh-American to be allowed to serve in his religious garb.

Singh will be allowed to wear a turban in either camouflage or in black with his rank printed upon in. But when wearing helmets, he will wear a more compact turban so as not to affect the helmet's fit.

Also, his beard is not permitted to be more than two inches long.

The assistant secretary of the army for manpower and reserve affairs, Debra S. Wada, told the New York Times last Friday how important this ruling was not only for Singh, but for the US Army as well.

“Because of the Army’s strong interest in maintaining good order and discipline, the Army intends to develop clear, uniform standards applicable to soldiers who have received religious accommodation,” she says.