Most people are aware that the United States military has strict codes and standards that all members must obey. This is partly to help enforce discipline. It is also intended to assist with unit cohesion and combat readiness in most cases. The standards cover everything from how to wear a uniform, stand at attention and even groom yourself. Violating those standards can lead to disciplinary actions or damage to a career in the military. Problems with the codes and standards have started to appear lately as the diversity of people in the military grows. One man recently challenged the military in order to accommodate his own religious beliefs.
Religions of all types around the world have specific practices that followers usually adhere to on a daily basis. Muslims pray up to five times a day when it does not interfere with other duties. Some Jewish people do not shave their forelocks and to wear a special cap during the day. The rules of many religions are similar to the codes of the military. This can create problems when the faith of a person serving in the armed forces demands actions that are against the standards of the military.
A man named Simratpal Singh moved to the United States with his family at the age of nine. He lived in California and then moved to Seattle. He was raised a Sikh and continues to practice his religion to this day. Not many people in the country understand the Sikh religion. Some think Sikhs are just Muslims although this is not true at all. Sikhs today can often be recognized by having a full beard and wearing a tightly bound turban. These practices are distinct to the religion that started back in 1699.
Singh decided to join the United States Army when he turned 18. He says that military service was attractive to him because it aligned with the philosophy of being Sikh. This means helping others, defending those who cannot defend themselves and serving the community. He did not realize that he would have to shave his beard and cut his long hair when entering. Singh was devastated when he had to do this just to serve. He did follow the rules, however, and went on to serve successfully in the Army for over a decade. It was only recently that Singh decided to start asking the Army to allow him to follow his religious practices while in uniform.
Singh sent a request to the United States Army to allow him to wear a turban and not shave even while he was in uniform serving as a soldier. The Army initially granted him a temporary exemption. It was set to expire in a few months. This is when Singh went a step further. He decided to file a lawsuit against the Department of Defense requesting the right to be allowed to practice his religion in the Army. Amazingly, the lawsuit went in favor of Singh. He was granted permission to serve in the military while wearing his beard and turban.
The decision was not completely without restrictions. Singh has to be monitored and inspected every four months. His superior officers need to assess whether this beard and turban are harming his ability to perform necessary duties or are causing problems within his unit. The exemption could be revoked later if it is found that he cannot serve effectively while wearing a turban. It is important to remember that Singh served in Afghanistan and even earned a bronze star for his performance. He is currently back in the United States serving in a non-combat role.