May 14, 2015 (Washington, DC) – In April 2015, the U.S. Army released new rules that will make it easier for observant Sikhs to request religious accommodations for their articles of faith. The prior procedures forced turbaned and bearded Sikh recruits to violate their religion while asking for a religious exception to serve - a Catch-22. Now observant Sikh recruits can continue to practice their religion while the Army decides whether to accommodate their religious articles of faith.
The new process allows observant Sikh recruits to first contract with the U.S. Army and then submit a request for a religious accommodation. While the request is pending, the Sikh recruit will not be sent to training or receive any official U.S. Army assignments. If the religious accommodation request is granted, the Sikh recruit may serve without compromising his/her articles of faith; if it is denied, the Sikh recruit may then request a departure from the Army without penalty in order to avoid violating religious beliefs.
It is the Sikh Coalition’s understanding that this rule change only applies to the U.S. Army at this time.
Click here to read our Army Know Your Rights Guide explaining the new process.
Important Progress, But Not a Final Fix to the Problem
Despite these changes, the presumptive ban on Sikh articles of faith still remains and accommodation requests are still being decided on a rarely-granted case-by-case basis. In other words, while it is now easier to request a religious accommodation within the U.S. Army, it is still difficult to actually obtain one.
“While the elimination of the Catch-22 in the U.S. Army is a positive development, the Pentagon must implement larger changes in order for Sikhs to be equal in the military,” said Senior Law and Policy Director, Rajdeep Singh. “The presumptive ban still forces Sikhs to choose between their faith and their career and that’s a discriminatory choice that nobody should have to make.”
Recent Sikh Coalition Advocacy Efforts to Eliminate the “Catch-22”