February 1, 2014 (Washington DC) – Sikh Americans packed a Congressional hearing room and a hearing overflow room this past Wednesday to press the Pentagon to modify new uniform and grooming regulations that place a presumptive barrier to Sikh military service in the United States.
Click here to see photos from the hearing
Click here to see a video from the hearing
The hearing before the United States House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel focused in part on new Pentagon guidelines that give the military more latitude to accommodate service members’ religious practices. Unfortunately, the new guidelines fall significantly short of presumptively allowing Sikhs to maintain their articles of faith in the U.S. Armed Services.
“Under the new Pentagon rules, prospective Sikh American service members may still have to make a false choice between their faith and their service to America,” said Amardeep Singh, Director of Programs at the Sikh Coalition. “This is unacceptable. We know from experience that there is no conflict between Sikh practices and military excellence. While we appreciate the Pentagon’s renewed commitment to religious diversity, we want to see an end to the presumptive ban on Sikh articles of faith.”
Under the new guidelines, Sikh service members would have to request special permission to maintain their religiously mandated turbans, beards and unshorn hair. Such requests must go directly to headquarters in Washington and are often a long and laborious process. Even if such requests are granted, they are temporary and can be revoked at any time.
The new guidelines also suggest that service members must abide by military uniform and grooming policies until and unless their requests for accommodation are granted. For Sikhs, who are religiously mandated to maintain unshorn hair and beards and wear a turban at all times, it would be impossible to abandon their faith practices while their accommodation request is pending.
The Sikh Coalition thanks the sangat who came from Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware to attend the hearing. Their presence was felt and noted by Members of Congress multiple times during the hearing. The Sikh Coalition thanks Representative Joseph Heck of Nevada for pressing the Pentagon to end the presumptive ban on Sikh service in the U.S. Armed Services during the hearing. The Sikh Coalition also thanks Congressman Joseph Crowley of New York for showing his support for the community by attending the hearing and sitting alongside Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi and the rest of the Sikh Coalition’s supporters. The Sikh Coalition thanks Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi for attending the hearing and making his positive presence deeply felt. Finally, the Sikh Coalition thanks Corporal Simranpreet Singh Lamba for submitting testimony for the hearing record.
Statements Submitted for the Hearing Record
Sikh Coalition Statement for the Hearing Record
Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi Statement for the Hearing Record
Corporal Simranpreet Singh Lamba Statement for the Hearing Record
The presumptive ban on Sikh service in the U.S. Armed Services represents the last major government barrier to equal employment opportunity for Sikhs in America. The Sikh Coalition along with its lead pro bono counsel, Amandeep Singh Sidhu of McDermott Will & Emery LLP, will continue this fight until the presumptive ban comes to an end.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges all Sikhs to practice their faith fearlessly.