Despite having a history of serving in the U.S. military since World War I, practicing Sikhs are still fighting for their right to wear articles of faith while in uniform, reports Denver Channel.
In April this year, the Marine Corps’ First Lieutenant Sukhbir Singh Toor became the latest service member — and the first in the Marine Corps 246-year history — to request religious accommodation that would allow him to wear his turban.
According to the Denver Channel, the Marine Corps granted his request but not without restrictions. First Lt. Toor can wear his turban when he is on base, but he can’t if he were to be deployed to a combat zone, he would not be allowed to wear his turban or beard.
As a combat arms officer who is often deployed, that wasn’t enough for First Lt. Toor. He appealed the ruling and is now threatening legal action.
Arguments against religious accommodations typically cite safety concerns — such as whether a beard would impede the seal on a gas mask. But with judges rejecting those arguments in similar cases as of late, the Marine Corps is presenting a new one. According to The New York Times’ reporting, the Marine Corps is arguing “that the mere sight of a deviation from uniformity inherently hinders mission accomplishment.”
Other branches of the military, however, have been more open to allowing religious accommodation in recent years. When Maj. Simratpal Singh challenged the U.S. Army on his right to wear a beard and turban in 2016, his case won. Similarly, in 2019, the Air Force granted Airman First class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa permission to wear a turban and beard while serving.
“We’ve come a long way, but there is still more to go,” Toor told The Times in September. “The Marine Corps needs to show it really means what it has been saying about strength in diversity — that it doesn’t matter what you look like, it just matters that you can do your job.”
According to the Denver Channel, the Sikh Coalition estimates that there are currently 100 active-duty service members who serve in turbans and beards.