Federal Court Upholds Right of Sikh Man to Join Army ROTC With Facial Hair and Turban

Iknoor Singh
Iknoor Singh

A federal court has ruled that a Sikh college student must be allowed to join his school’s Army ROTC with his long hair, beard and turban intact.

In her decision, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., said on Friday (June 12) that the Army has made so many exceptions for secular grooming issues — more than 197,000, including a “vampire Mickey Mouse” tattoo — that it had to make an exception here to comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“All this Sikh student wants to do is to serve his country,” said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which supported the student’s case. “The military cannot issue uniform exemptions for secular reasons but then refuse to issue them for religious reasons. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was written and passed nearly unanimously by Congress precisely to protect the rights of individuals such as Mr. Singh.”

The student, Iknoor Singh, a junior at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., was told in 2014 that his hair and turban did not conform to the Army’s grooming and uniform standards and therefore he could not join the school’s ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program.

Sikhs are forbidden to cut their hair and beard as symbols of their obedience to their faith. Singh told the court that cutting his hair and beard would mean “dishonoring or offending God.”

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SOURCE: Kimberly Winston
Religion News Service