March 1, 2016 (Washington, D.C.) – The Sikh Coalition, in conjunction with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and McDermott Will & Emery, took unprecedented legal action yesterday by suing the United States Department of Defense on behalf of a decorated Sikh American soldier. The lawsuit demands that the U.S. military accommodate Captain Simratpal Singh’s religious articles of faith and drop the impromptu, discriminatory testing procedures imposing upon Captain Singh.
Captain Singh was granted a temporary accommodation until March 31, 2016, to serve in the U.S. Army while maintaining his Sikh articles of faith. Last week, he was ordered to report on March 1st for additional testingthat no other soldier in the U.S. Army has ever been subject to. Captain Singh, who is more than willing to undergo the same safety testing as other soldiers, objects to being treated differently on account of his faith. Captain Singh has already passed the standard gas mask test administered by the U.S. Army.
“Captain Singh is being subject to discriminatory testing that isn’t required of any other soldiers, even those with medical or religious accommodations. The Army cannot delay in providing him his constitutionally mandated right to an accommodation to serve as an observant Sikh in the Army,” said the Sikh Coalition’s Legal Director, Harsimran Kaur.
Captain Singh, who was forced to compromise his faith in order to pursue a military career in 2006, graduated from West Point with honors in 2010 and was awarded the Bronze Star for clearing roads in Afghanistan of explosive devices. He began maintaining his articles of faith and filed an accommodation request on October 21, 2015. On December 9, 2015, he was granted a temporary, 30-day accommodation to serve while maintaining his Sikh articles of faith. This accommodation was extended until March 31, 2016.
“I have so much pride in my Sikh identity and service to my nation,” said Captain Singh in December after receiving his temporary accommodation. “To feel spiritually whole, while continuing my military career, has always been the dream.”
Last year, 27 retired U.S. Generals called on the U.S. Department of Defense to eliminate the ban on observant Sikhs. These generals join 105 Members of Congress, 15 U.S. Senators, and 21 national interfaith and civil rights organizations, who have previously signed letters in support of American Sikhs’ right to serve.
“For years, we have worked to avoid litigation under the guiding belief that the U.S. military would finally do the right thing,” said Amandeep Sidhu, Partner at McDermott Will & Emery. “The U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act make it clear that Captain Singh has the right to practice his faith in the military, and we are confident that the court will agree.”.