Washington: A Sikh college student will be able to join the US Army, without being forced to cut his hair, shave his beard or stop wearing his turban thanks to a Washington court ruling.
District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled last week that the Army violated Hofstra University student Iknoor Singh’s rights when it refused to let him compete for a spot as a contracted member of his college’s Reserve Officer Training Corps programme.
She added that the Army’s refusal to permit Singh to enrol while adhering to “articles of faith” that include his hair and turban “cannot survive the strict scrutiny” of the federal law.
The Army has given “tens of thousands of exceptions” to its grooming and uniform policies, the judge wrote, and made “successful accommodation of observant Sikhs in the past,” noting several who have served with distinction, receiving commendations.
Jackson said the Army’s own research contradicted deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. James C. McConville’s opinion in denying Singh’s enrolment request.
McConville and other Army officials had contended the articles of faith would have an adverse impact on unit cohesion and morale, discipline and health and safety.
Singh, a resident of Queens in New York, who plans to enrol in the ROTC programme in autumn, told Newsday in a phone interview that: “Being told no a handful of times, I didn’t give up.”‘
“I had faith and let things play out,” he was quoted as saying. “I’ll be going on weekend field exercises, which I wasn’t previously able to do. I’m very excited about that.”