Govt hasn’t given a good reason why patriotic Sikhs can’t serve in U.S. military: Counsel

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Washington D.C. ,Mar. 30 (ANI):As three new Sikh American soldiers have filed another lawsuit in a federal court against the U.S. Department of Defence for enforcing no beard rule in the military, senior counsel at the Becket Fund Eric Baxter, who is representing the three Sikh soldiers on Wednesday said the government really hasn’t given any good reason why it can’t let patriotic Americans of all religious flavours to serve in the military without compromising their religious beliefs.

Talking to ANI here, he said this case is about Sikh Americans serving in the U.S. military. “Sikhs have a long history of serving in the U.S. military from the World War 1 through the Vietnam War. But in the 1980s, for some reasons, the government started enforcing its no beard, moreover against Sikh Americans. So, now we have four clients, who are representing their right to serve their country.”

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When asked how hopeful he was of a victory in the case, Baxter said, “We are very hopeful. We have been before this judge one time here in the District of Columbia and she viewed our case very favourably. The government really hasn’t given any good reason why it can’t let patriotic Americans of all religious flavours to serve in the military.”

“One argument the government has made is that beards may create a safety hazards if gas mask formed CO, but the truth is there are hundred thousand soldiers even in time in the military, who have beards for medical or other reasons. Sikhs were certainly in the past and never had any safety problems with their beard. So, we think the government has no case,” he added.

Talking about the current status, the counsel said there are four Sikh Americans, who are serving in the army currently with their beards in place. “They have accommodations, but the government is still refusing to make them permanent. Every time they are transferred from their duty station, they have to re-apply for accommodations. There are still a number of Sikhs who would like to serve, but can’t apply due to the beard row,” he said.

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Asked about the argument that goes in their favour, he said Sikhs have served militaries around the world for a long time. “They are allowed to serve in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and India, of course. There is simply no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the American Army as well.”

“The army has to make a decision on our first client Captain Simratpal Singh, who is a Brown Star recipient. They have to let us know tomorrow whether they are going to accommodate him; if they do, then it will be a victory for Sikh Americans and for all of us. And, if they deny the accommodation, then we have a very tight schedule in April to go to a court and get the court to change the army’s mind for us,” he said while talking about the future course of action.

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Specialists Kanwar Singh and 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 various units in May.

The lawsuit was filed after the U.S. Department of Defence ignored a written demand letter that was sent on March 23. (ANI)

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