Upholding the religious freedom rights of Sikhs in the US armed forces, an American court has ruled in favour of a decorated Sikh army captain who had demanded that the military accommodate his articles of faith and abandon its impromptu discriminatory testing.
Captain Simratpal Singh, 28, in a lawsuit filed against the Department of Defence demanded the US military accommodate
his articles of faith and dump the discriminatory testing. "Thousands of other soldiers are permitted to wear long hair and beards for medical or other reasons, without being subjected to such specialised and costly testing of their helmets and gas masks," said judge Beryl A Howell, while ruling in captain Singh's favour on Thursday.
The US Department of Defence, which had granted and then extended Singh's temporary religious accommodation until 31 March, 2016, remains scheduled to make a final decision on his permanent accommodation by that deadline.
Captain Singh, who is a West Point graduate, Ranger, and Bronze Star Medal recipient, has successfully passed the safety tests required of his unit. "The US Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act make it clear that Captain Singh's right to practice his faith and serve in our military are not mutually exclusive," said Amandeep Sidhu, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery law firm, which represented Singh.
"We are grateful that the court is on the right side of religious freedom with its ruling, which begs the question: Does the world's largest employer really want to be on the wrong side of history?" he said.
The testing that the military planned to impose on captain Singh is not required of any other soldiers, even the tens of thousands with medical or religious accommodations, and including previously accommodated Sikhs, Sidhu said. Given that Singh has passed the standard safety tests, further testing would clearly be discriminatory, he claimed.
"We have been advocating for the simple, straightforward and equal right to serve for years, and held on to the belief that the military would correct this injustice once they realised their mistake," said the Sikh Coalition's legal director, Harsimran Kaur.
"The military's treatment of captain Singh, a decorated soldier, makes it clear that they deliberately want to squash diversity and religious freedom in their ranks; that is not something that any court, or any American, should ever tolerate," Kaur said.