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Sikh-American Student Challenges ROTC Rules

College sophomore Iknoor Singh says the U.S. Army is making him choose between his faith and his country by asking him to remove his turban and shave his beard. Courtesy United Sikhs

“Ever since the army changed its grooming regulations back in the 1980's,” said Manmeet Singh, staff attorney for United Sikhs, “it led to a presumptive ban on devout Sikhs from serving in the armed forces.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and United Sikhs have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army on behalf of Iknoor Singh, a sophomore at New York’s Hofstra University. The lawsuit argues that the Army’s refusal to grant a religious exemption to allow Singh to enlist in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program with his beard, turban, and long hair required by his Sikh faith is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

“If Mr. Singh's case is successful,” said Manmeet Singh, “we hope it will eventually open the door for thousands of patriotic Sikh Americans who for decades, have been wanting to serve their country.”

At first, the U.S. Army said that Iknoor Singh's beard, turban, and long hair violate grooming regulations and would not be allowed because they would undermine readiness and unit cohesion. Later, their response was revised to say that Singh may file a religious accommodation request, as other Sikhs in the armed forces have. However, before he can do so, he must first enlist and shave his beard, cut his hair, and abandon his turban, which he says, “doesn’t make sense.”

Because ROTC rules also require cadets to enlist before the end of sophomore year, time is running out. In the meantime, Singh has been auditing military science courses.

Iknoor Singh, a sophomore at New York's Hofstra University, is challenging ROTC rules requiring him to shave his beard and remove his turban -- both requirements of his Sikh faith.Courtesy United Sikhs

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