Read More Atheist Republic On April 11, four Sikhs sued the US Marine Corps for refusing to allow their religious articles of faith. As the latest court date approaches, veterans and Muslim and Jewish groups have signed on to support them.
Four Sikh marines are suing the U.S. Dept. of Defense and the Marine Corps over restrictions that would keep them from donning religious articles during deployments abroad and at boot camp. https://t.co/MTDFmif3FG
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 13, 2022
The Sikh Coalition, co-council Winston & Strawn, and litigation partner the Beckett Fund filed suit on behalf of USMC Captain Sukhbir Singh Toor and three recruits, Milaap Singh Chahal, Aekash Singh, and Jaskirat Singh. The recruits all filed for religious accommodations in 2021, and their status remains in limbo due to the “uniformity” rules of the Marine Corps.
At present, Sikhs can keep their beards and unshorn hair under a turban while on duty, but not during combat deployments or recruit training. Further, all articles of faith, which include kesh (unshorn hair), kanga (wooden comb), kara (metal bracelet), kachera (under-shorts), and kirpan (ceremonial knife), known as “the 5 K’s, are banned during boot camp. The Sikhs argue that this violates their first amendment right to free religious expression.
With four years of service, Captain Toor was the first to contact the Sikh Coalition when he received only a partial accommodation in June 2021. He says he is ready to deploy, like any other service member. “I can’t do that, however, as long as I’m left on the bench because of my religious beliefs. I’m prepared to fight for the right to do my job while staying true to my faith with no caveats, asterisks, or discriminatory restrictions,” he stated.
The three recruits issued a joint statement that read in part,” We remain ready to meet the high mental and physical standards of the Marine Corps because we want to serve our country alongside the best. We cannot, however, give up our right to our religious faith while doing so.”
“How long do they have to wait?” Today, we joined partners to file suit against the U.S. Marine Corps on behalf of one active duty and three recruit clients. Read the @nytimes exclusive now, and stay tuned for a statement, graphics, and more tomorrow! https://t.co/iPeJ1zy6NL
— Sikh Coalition (@sikh_coalition) April 11, 2022
The Sikh Coalition and its partners secured accommodations in the US Army in 2017 and the Air Force in 2020. “Despite more than a year of efforts to engage in good faith, the USMC continues to sideline our clients due to their articles of faith,” said the Coalition’s Senior Staff Attorney, Giselle Klapper. “We continue to believe that the Marine Corps is doing a disservice to both our clients and itself in denying basic rights that are recognized by other branches of our military and under US law,” she said at an October 11 appeals court in the District of Columbia after a Senior Judge denied their request for a preliminary injunction on August 24, which would have lifted the ban until the court’s final decision.
The Sikh Coalition maintains that the Pentagon is stereotyping what Americans should look like. If the military, being the nation’s largest employer, allows them to serve with their articles of faith, it would “make it harder for employers everywhere to discriminate against our community.”
The Marine Corps maintains that strict uniformity is what makes it so effective and that lifting the ban would pose “a safety risk in any combat zone.” They haven’t explained how they came to this assessment and have refused to comment further during ongoing litigation.
The Interfaith Alliance, Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, Muslim Public Affairs Council, American Islamic Congress, Women Veterans and Families, and the Sikh American Veterans Alliance have all filed amicus briefs on the Sikh’s behalf.
A group of Army and Air Force veterans also filed a brief stating,” Every other branch of the military has offered Sikhs religious accommodations, resulting in a track record of remarkable success, not disaster. The government’s claim of disruption defies credulity.”
The upcoming court date is scheduled for November 29.