Sikhs in Marine Corps training can sport beard, long hair, US court rules

The Sikhs suing the Marine Corps were supported in court by several organisations, including the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty and the American Islamic Congress

Arul Louis Dec 27, 2022
US Marine Corps (Photo: Twitter)

A US appeals court has ordered the Marine Corps to allow Sikh recruits to retain their beards and long hair while they undergo basic training. The federal appeals court in Washington overturned a lower court’s ruling and ordered preliminary injunctions on Friday allowing two recruits to adhere to their religious requirement during their training.

Under existing rules, Sikhs serving in the Marine Corps can keep their religious symbols, but were required to shave their beards and head during the gruelling 13-week basic training known as boot camp for recruits.

The Army, Air Force and Navy do not restrict Sikh religious observance while in service or in training.

The Sikh Coalition, which backed the suit, said, “Today, marks another historic step towards ending religious discrimination by every US employer”.

Two recruits, Jaskirat Singh and Milaap Chahal, had sued in a lower federal court for the right to observe their religious requirements while in training, but the court had refused to give them the injunction.

However, upholding their plea, the appeals court bench made up of Indian American Judge Neomi Rao as well as Judges Patricia Millet and Michelle Childs, who wrote the judgment, ruled that the Sikhs suffered “irreparable harm” to their religious rights guaranteed by the  Constitution’s Frist Amendment by not being granted the exemption while in the basic training.

The judges also ordered the lower court to grant a similar injunction to Aekash Singh, who is to enter the Marine Corp’s officer training school.

A part of the Navy Department, the Marine Corps is an elite military organisation that sets tougher standards for its personnel.

The appeals court ruling noted several discrepancies in the Marine Corp’s arguments that the exemptions “will impede its compelling interest in forging unit cohesion and a uniform mindset during boot camp” which “is crucial to the ‘psychological transformation’ by which civilians acquire the ‘team mentality’, ‘willingness to sacrifice’, and ‘esprit de corps’ that are ‘the hallmark' of the Marine Corps”.

The ruling said the Corps did not explain why it “cannot apply the same or similar accommodations that the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard provide in recruit training, both at boot camp and in the Academies”.

Moreover, the ruling said that women “do not engage in a daily facial shaving ritual or even a common-among-females hair styling regimen. Nonetheless, they emerge from boot camp as full-fledged Marines who are as committed to unit cohesion, stripped of individuality, and ready to defend the Nation as are male recruits”.

Another aspect of the case pending in the lower court filed by the three Sikhs and Sukhbir Singh Toor, a serving captain, is against the requirement to shave when Marines are in combat situations is pending.

 The Sikhs suing the Marine Corps were supported in court by several organisations, including the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty and the American Islamic Congress 


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