March 29, 2016 (Washington, D.C.) – Another lawsuit, brought by three new Sikh American soldiers, was filed in federal court this morning against the U.S. Department of Defense. Specialist Kanwar Singh, Specialist Harpal Singh and Private Arjan Singh Ghotra each seek to serve their country without being forced to compromise their religion in the process.
The lawsuit, filed by the Sikh Coalition, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and McDermott Will & Emery, demands that the Army accommodate their religious articles of faith, including turbans, unshorn hair and beards, so that each can begin Basic Combat Training with their respective units in May. The lawsuit was filed after the U.S. Department of Defense ignored a written demand letter that was sent on March 23rd.
Watch U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, endorse the Sikh right to serve.
“The Defense Department has remained unresponsive to their requests for accommodation and the clock is ticking. Action must be taken,” said the Sikh Coalition’s Legal Director, Harsimran Kaur.
The new lawsuit follows the March 4, 2016 federal court ruling that the Army was prohibited from subjecting a decorated Sikh American soldier, Captain Simratpal Singh, to unprecedented, discriminatory testing. A final Army decision regarding CPT Singh’s landmark religious accommodation request is due by March 31st.
SPC Kanwar Singh, whose family has a proud tradition of military service in the British Army, was inspired to serve when he attended a Harvard Kennedy School speech given by Senator John McCain encouraging military service. Later that month, he attended the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing and took inspiration in the survivors and those willing to put their lives at risk to serve.
“We would like the opportunity, like every other American, to proudly serve,” said SPC Kanwar Singh, who enlisted in the Massachusetts Army National Guard. “I look forward to joining my battalion for training and making the diverse state of Massachusetts proud.”
SPC Harpal Singh, who lives in California and works as a Telecommunications Engineering Specialist, was recruited by the U.S. Army Reserve for his foreign language skills. Since he made the decision to become a fully initiated Sikh at the age of ten, he has been motivated to serve his community through military service. “Religious freedom and tolerance are core American values,” said SPC Harpal Singh.
PVT Arjan Singh Ghotra, who is 17, has spent many hours participating in civilian leadership and military auxiliary programs in his home state of Virginia. Both of his grandfathers served in the military and he believes that being a soldier represents his dedication to abide by the principles of justice, equality and service. “My faith is completely compatible with service to my nation,” said PVT Ghotra. He is enlisted in the Virginia Army National Guard and is slated to attend basic training before attending George Mason University this fall.
“We are once again asking whether our nation’s largest employer will embrace religious freedom and diversity or continue to aggressively thwart progress. It is a sad day for all Americans when our military is on the wrong side of common sense, the law and our shared American values,” said Amandeep Sidhu, Partner at McDermott Will & Emery.
To learn more about why the Sikh Coalition continues to advocate for this policy change, please check out our new military FAQ and this blog post by Sikh Coalition Co-Founder and Board Member Prabhjot Singh.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.