June 17, 2015 (New York, NY) – A U.S. federal judge recently ruled in favor of Iknoor Singh, a Sikh American Hofstra University student, who had previously been denied the right to enroll in his college Army ROTC program because of his religious articles of faith.
The ruling established that the Army’s denial of Mr. Singh violated his rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and that he now has the right to enroll in his Army ROTC program without shaving his beard, cutting his hair, or removing his turban.
“Congratulations to Iknoor Singh and his legal team at the ACLU and United Sikhs. They scored an important victory in the fight for religious freedom,” said the Sikh Coalition’s Senior Staff Attorney, Gurjot Kaur. “We urge the Pentagon to eliminate the discriminatory loopholes in its policies and give all Americans an equal opportunity to serve in our nation’s armed forces.”
This decision puts Mr. Singh on equal footing with non-Sikh ROTC cadets in competing for an Army contract. However, if Mr. Singh successfully completes the ROTC program and the Army does offer him a contract, it is not clear whether he will still have to request another religious accommodation, as the Pentagon’s presumptive ban on Sikh articles of faith remains in effect.
"This decision should be a reminder to the U.S. military that the shelf-life of its policy of excluding Sikh soldiers has expired," said Amandeep Singh Sidhu, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP that serves as pro bono counsel to the Sikh Coalition. "This decision makes clear that they should be given the opportunity to serve."
Colonel (Ret.) Gopal Singh Khalsa and Sikh Coalition clients Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, and Corporal Simranpreet Singh Lamba provided lengthy testimony in support of Iknoor Singh’s case earlier this year. Their distinguished military careers and achievements were relied on heavily by the court, and paved the way by providing clear evidence that Sikh articles of faith provide no hindrance to service in the U.S. military.
“We are thrilled at the news that Iknoor Singh will be given the opportunity to take the next step in pursuing his career in the military,” said Major Kalsi, Captain Rattan, and Corporal Lamba in a joint statement. “Every American, regardless of faith, should be allowed to pursue their professional dreams in whatever career they choose. The Pentagon must now take the next step to make Iknoor’s religious accommodation the standard, rather than the exception.”
To read the court's opinion, click here.
For more information on the Sikh Coalition’s efforts to reverse the policy, click here.
For more background information on the Sikh Coalition’s military clients, click here.
To watch a short documentary on the Sikh Struggle to Serve, click here.
To read the Sikh Coalition's Know Your Rights - Sikhs in the U.S. Army FAQ, click here.