Capt. Simratpal Singh, a U.S. Army engineer and a Sikh, has been granted a long-term religious accommodation that allows him to wear his hair long, as well as a beard and a turban, by Debra Wada, the Assistant Secretary of the Army Manpower and Reserve Affairs, as reported by the Sikh Coalition.
Capt. Singh, who was born in 1989, joined the Army in 2006 and has been awarded the Bronze Star, is a graduate of West Point and the Army Ranger School, and is a recipient of the Army Achievement Medal, as reported by the Sikh Coalition.
Mine is that Simratpal Singh is a Sikh and believes in Sikhism AND he's defending our country. So I think it's a great decision made by them
— Baller Reet (@BalreetIsLife) April 3, 2016
In October, Singh applied to the Army for an accommodation for his articles of faith, namely wearing a turban, beard, and his hair long. Since joining the military, Singh voluntarily shaved his beard, cut his hair, and refrained from wearing a turban, stating that he had “succumbed under pressure,” as previously reported by the Inquisitr.
“For a couple days … it was hard for me to look in the mirror,” Capt. Singh was quoted with regard to the first time he shaved his beard by Stars and Stripes. “Up until that point, I had a certain image of what a Sikh is supposed to be and of how I’m supposed to live my life. To have all of that shattered in literally a couple of minutes — it was hard to take in.”
Despite stating that he “constantly regretted” the decision to comply with Army grooming standards rather than uphold his faith, Singh continued to toe the Army line. Though he considered asking for a waiver when he first entered West Point, and gave fellow soldiers his portions of meat in order to uphold his vegetarianism, it was not until his tenth year in the service that the Sikh captain decided to formally seek permission to display symbols of his faith while serving his country.
Singh was reported to have been granted a temporary accommodation in December, first for 30 days, which then subsequently extended to March 31.
The U.S. Army maintains strict rules with regard to the grooming and uniform of its members. However, near 100,000 service members are permitted to wear beards under medical exemptions, including Special Forces troops in Afghanistan.
None of the members of the Army who have received medical beard exemptions are required to undergo extra testing to determine if gas masks and helmets can still be worn and work effectively. However, this is exactly what was required of Capt. Simratpal Singh.
“None of those people have had to undergo special tests,” Jagmeet Singh with the Sikh Coalition said of other service members who wear beards. “We can only assume Captain Singh is being singled out because of his religion.”
In late February, Singh was ordered to report to three days of testing to determine if his beard would undermine the performance of a gas mask. The decorated Sikh officer decided that he had enough and, together with the Sikh Coalition, sued the Department of Defense.
The lawsuit resulted in the DoD quickly postponing Singh’s gas mask testing and providing him with a long-term religious accommodation.
Prior to 1974, members of the Sikh faith were permitted to wear long hair, beards, and turbans while serving in the U.S. military. Since 1981, Sikh members of the service have been required to apply for religious accommodations. Singh is reported to be the first actively serving Sikh U.S. Army member to be granted such an accommodation. Previously, three other Sikhs, two Muslims, and one Jewish rabbi have also been granted accommodations based on articles of their faith.
Debra Wada’s order maintains that Capt. Singh’s accommodation may be rescinded in the case of military necessity and that she will be revisiting the order within one year, noting that further testing with regard to gas masks and the effects of wearing a turban underneath an Army Combat Helmet needs to be conducted.
[Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images]