Article Calls on US Military to Repeal Ban on Sikhs

Simran Jeet Singh, a doctoral student at Columbia University, wrote a Huffington Post blog entitled “Repealing the Ban Against Sikhs in the Military:”

Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice…repeated a constant refrain he has heard from the Sikhs in Oak Creek: “We love this country and want to show our love for it. But we still aren’t allowed to serve in the military.” The Assistant Attorney General then said he would elevate the Sikh desire to serve in the military to the highest levels of the Obama Administration.

The article is interesting in touching on a subject not often discussed, but it also reflects that lack of consideration.  For example, as commenters on the article noted, it was sensationally titled:  There is no ban on Sikhs — or any other religious person — serving in the United States military.  (But if you want to draw attention to your cause, it is popular to claim a “ban” that needs “repealed.”)

There is the requirement that members of the military adhere to a consistent standard of military uniforms — meaning, generally, no public displays of religious modifications to the uniform.  The US Supreme Court has previously upheld the ability of the US military to restrict troops’ uniforms, even if that interferes with troops’ religious freedoms (Goldman v. Weinberger, 1986). 

Like some other faiths, Sikhs require waivers from the uniform standard if they want to maintain their outward religious expression while in the US military.  A few have been granted that waiver (only one to a non-medical troop) — but it remains a waiver, not a blanket policy.

It is worth remembering, too, that Sikhs are not being drafted and forced to abandon their outward religious expressions of uncut hair, turbans, etc.  It is admirable they want to serve, but service is a voluntary profession requiring adherence to certain standards.  For now, those standards do not permit what most Sikhs would desire.

Religion and the military uniform is an issue that has been addressed before, as when policies were re-written specifically to allow certain religious accoutrements.  It will likely be addressed again.  It is an interesting example of the complexities and requirements of religious freedom and the regulations of the US military.

Interesting that “religious freedom” groups haven’t picked up on this cause, isn’t it?