Sikh Becomes US Army Officer with Turban

Newly commissioned 2LT Kanwar Singh has become the most recent US Army officer to wear a turban and beard, the articles of his Sikh faith:

With the help of the nonprofit Sikh Coalition, Singh sued the Defense Department, and within days officials backed down and granted him a temporary religious accommodation.

The lawsuit last year — supported by the Becket Fund — was ultimately what led to a limited number of Sikh adherents being permitted into the US Army. While a notable and positive achievement for religious freedom, the move has led to some awkward attempts to sound positive about it. Singh went through OCS for the Massachusetts Army National Guard, which is led by the interestingly-named Maj Christian Paluk. Paluk said [emphasis added]:

It blew my mind that he was this passionate, this patriotic for this country…I learned …that love of one’s country and patriotism is far more important than appearance and uniformity.

There are certainly several examples of [x] being elevated above “appearance and uniformity” over the past few years. But Paluk’s statement is unconstrained. The US military does not (officially) believe that love of country and patriotism are “far more important” than uniformity. In fact, the US military places a high value on appearance and uniformity — which is why it is so hard to get exceptions. Those exceptions to that standard are based on a higher standard — one that says the military must accommodate religious liberty to the extent that it can. The high value of uniformity speaks to the importance of religious liberty — that it would be granted an exception in the face of that high standard.

That does not mean that patriotism is more important than uniformity. Put that tagline in an Army commercial and see what happens. To say that love of country trumps uniformity is to demean both liberty and the military’s regimented standards.

It’s good that Sikhs can serve while observing the tenets of their faith, because that demonstrates the US military’s commitment to the human right of religious freedom — not because “patriotism.”

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