Why Are Only Three Observant Sikh Men Serving In The U.S. Military? : NPR

Interesting. US appears to be the exception, given Canada, UK and India all allow:

If a Muslim woman may wear a headscarf at work, as the U.S. Supreme Court has now affirmed, perhaps a Sikh man should be able to wear a turban while serving in the U.S. military.

So argues the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy organization that has long opposed a Pentagon ban on facial hair and religious headgear among service members. That campaign got at least a moral boost with this week’s court decision.

“What I’m anticipating with this decision is that we will have a move in this country to recognize the right of individuals from different religious backgrounds to live in an America that does not discriminate against them on the basis of how they appear,” says Simran Jeet Singh, the senior religion fellow for the Sikh Coalition.

As a general rule, the Department of Defense prohibits facial hair and the wearing of religious headgear among service members, though it offers “accommodation” on a case-by-case basis in recognition of “sincerely held beliefs.”

Such waivers, however, are given only when they would not undermine “military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or any other military requirement.”

In practice, those considerations can present major obstacles. Currently, just three observant Sikh men serve in the U.S. military, all in the Army, and all are in noncombat positions. That’s out of an active-duty military force of 1.4 million.

…Sikh men are currently allowed to serve with beards and turbans in the military services in Canada, the United Kingdom and India, among other countries, and they were permitted in the U.S. military until the early 1980s, when the policy was changed.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1986 decision, upheld the military’s right to ban facial hair and religious headgear, finding that the military is a “specialized society separate from civilian society” and that to “accomplish its mission the military must foster instinctive obedience, unity, commitment and esprit de corps.”

That ruling would suggest that this week’s court decision upholding the right of a Muslim woman to wear her hijab headscarf does not apply to observant Sikh men wishing to wear a turban in the U.S. military, but it may nonetheless hold some political significance.

“The military has shown on many occasions that it is influenced by the court of public opinion and by social change,” says Eugene Fidell, a specialist in military law at the Yale Law School.

Why Are Only Three Observant Sikh Men Serving In The U.S. Military? : NPR.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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