The US Army Captain Simratpal Singh has filed a suit against the US military after being ordered to undergo “extraordinary, targeted, repetitive testing” before receiving permanent permission to wear a beard and long hair for his religion. The suit intends making the waivers permanent, as similar to those granted to at least three other Sikh Army officers, all in medical professions.
Mr.Singh is a member of the 349th Engineer Battalion who was awarded the Bronze Star for his work clearing explosives from roads in Kandahar Province in Afghanistan. He was granted with a temporary accommodation last year, allowing him to dress according to his religious beliefs. After his initial request for religious accommodation, Singh received temporary waivers that eventually were extended to the end of this month.
According to the lawsuit the Assistant Army Secretary Debra Wada, recently ordered additional tests before she would grant him a permanent exemption, saying she wanted to ensure whether he could safely wear a helmet and gas mask if he had a turban, uncut hair and a beard. The Lawsuit also said, “The discriminatory treatment is unfounded and violates the Army’s own regulation, particularly as Captain Singh recently passed the standard gas mask testing with the rest of his unit”. Importantly, Singh has recently passed the standard gas mask testing with the rest of his unit.
“Defendants abruptly informed Captain Singh that, because of his Sikh religion, he must immediately undergo extraordinary, targeted, repetitive testing ostensibly to ensure he can properly wear a combat helmet and safety mask,” the lawsuit said further.
In early 2014, the US military initiated to provide individual troops greater latitude to wear turbans, also the head scarves, yarmulkes and tattoos if required by their religion. The policy shift was mainly expected to affect Sikhs, Muslims, Jews and members of other groups that wear beards or articles of clothing for religious purposes. However, till date only three Sikhs have been granted permission by the US military to wear turbans, beards, and uncut hair over the past 6 years, with the court filings revealing that with Singh and two other Sikhs are also awaiting decisions on their requests for a waiver.