A Sikh student has filed a lawsuit against the United States Army after being denied religious accommodation so that he could enlist in his school’s ROTC program, according to court documents.
Iknoor Singh was born and raised in Queens, N.Y. He studies finance at Hofstra University and dreams of serving his country as a military intelligence officer, according to court documents.
That dream has recently been put on hold, as the Army denied his request for a religious exemption from the military’s grooming policies.
“I couldn’t believe the military was asking me to make the impossible decision of choosing between the country I love and my faith,” Singh wrote on a blog post on the ACLU website.
Court documents claim the Army denied the motion in April of 2013, stating the exemption would have had “an adverse impact on the Army’s readiness, unit cohesion, standards, health, safety, or discipline.”
The Army has since then altered its decision, stating that Singh could seek a religious exemption after enlisting as a cadet.
The ACLU and United Sikhs believe the Army violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and took immediate legal action.
The court documents go into detail about the beliefs Sikhs hold to be sacred. It described “kesh” as the belief that “allowing hair to grow naturally is a sign of respect toward the perfection of God’s creation.”
“Like most Sikhs, Mr. Singh believes that the turban is an inseparable part of his Sikh religious identity and that exposing his 'naked' head in public, as Defendants would require upon his enlistment, would be sacrilegious and shameful,” the court document continued.
The Army has granted such religious exemptions in the past. A 2010 news article on the Army’s website described the circumstances for the religious exemption of two Sikhs, Capt. Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi and Capt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan.
Hofstra University released a statement on the matter: “(Hofstra) entirely supports Mr. Singh’s ambitions to serve his country. He is currently enrolled in the ROTC class and we are providing him leadership training to the extent that the U.S. Army has allowed. We very much hope that the Army will permit us to enroll Mr. Singh in the program as a full Cadet.”