In a historic authorized win for non secular freedom within the navy, a member of the Sikh neighborhood graduated from Marine Corps recruit coaching Friday whereas carrying articles of religion intrinsic to the South Asian faith.
Pfc. Jaskirat Singh stood at consideration — whereas carrying a turban, beard and unshorn hair — as he listened to the nationwide anthem play on the parade deck at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. For Singh, the day was not solely the end result of three months of exhausting coaching, however practically two years of authorized tumult that allowed him to don conventional Sikh put on at boot camp.
He’s doubtless the primary enlisted Marine to graduate from recruit coaching whereas carrying articles of religion intrinsic to the Sikh custom, particularly a beard and turban, based on the Sikh Coalition which, together with different advocates, has helped him and greater than 50 Sikh Individuals safe navy lodging for non secular put on.
“I’m honored to serve my nation within the Marine Corps, and proud that I used to be ready to take action whereas respecting my Sikh religion,” Singh mentioned in a press launch from the Sikh Coalition. “I hope that my commencement sends a transparent message to different younger Sikhs who’re contemplating navy service: Your religion doesn’t need to be a barrier to any profession.”
Singh graduated as an 0311 navy occupational specialty, or infantryman.
His accomplishment represents an necessary step in years-long negotiations between the Sikh Coalition and the Marine Corps, which have butted authorized heads since at the least November 2021 over the lodging, based on the press launch.
These negotiations reached a fever pitch in April of final yr when Singh and three different plaintiffs sued the U.S. authorities after the Marine Corps provided an lodging that will require Sikhs to give up their turbans and beards whereas at boot camp.
Finally, the D.C. Circuit Courtroom of Appeals granted Singh a preliminary injunction and dominated that the Marine Corps should permit Sikhs to put on their hair and beards in uniform, together with at recruit coaching. Singh shipped off for boot camp in Could 2023.
The authorized win was solely partial, nonetheless, and advocates are persevering with to push for broader lodging. Singh and one other Sikh Coalition consumer, Marine Capt. Sukhbir Singh Toor, are prohibited from carrying unshorn beards when deployed to areas the place they’d obtain hostile fireplace or imminent hazard pay — in different phrases, fight zones.
“This presents an inherent restrict on any Marine’s profession, given how a lot of the world such a prohibition covers and the forward-deployed nature of the department,” Giselle Klapper, the Sikh Coalition deputy authorized director, advised Army.com on Friday. “We’ll proceed working to make sure that each of those males and others who come after them have full equality of alternative.”
This prohibition represents a painful thorn for Sikhs who serve within the navy, particularly for Marines. In 2011, Marine Cpl. Gurpreet Singh was killed in motion whereas serving in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was made to shave his beard and reduce his hair on that deployment, and died with out having the ability to put on necessary articles of religion.
“I bear in mind talks with him after we had been deployed downrange in Afghanistan,” Army Lt. Col. Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, founding father of the Sikh American Veterans Alliance and the primary Sikh navy officer to be awarded an lodging by the Protection Division in 2009.
“He mentioned, ‘Perhaps sometime the Marine Corps permits Sikhs to serve with our turbans and beards,'” Kalsi recalled Cpl. Singh saying in Afghanistan. Kalsi mentioned he was decided to make that occur.
“In fact, he handed away earlier than he might see that,” he mentioned to Army.com on Friday.
Kalsi mentioned that he felt “immense delight” for Pfc. Singh throughout his commencement day, and that it was surreal to return a salute from him.
“We have principally adopted him,” Kalsi mentioned. “So he is a part of our household, and to have him salute again is only a very proud second.”
The navy has beforehand tried to make the argument that beard lodging would intervene with navy duties like donning a gasoline masks and making a protecting seal round one’s face, however Kalsi mentioned that he has had no issues performing any navy job due to his articles.
For instance, he advised Army.com that when he’s in an setting that requires a helmet, he already has on his “patka” or small turban, which simply suits beneath his headgear.
Pfc. Singh equally didn’t expertise any points in coaching, and particularly advised reporters Friday that he had no downside making a seal for his gasoline masks.
For the Marine Corps’ half, a spokesperson advised Army.com that Singh “did rather well.”
“He was a squad chief all through coaching,” Maj. Joshua Pena, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Coaching and Training Command, advised Army.com. “He met all of the requirements. He is a Marine. … We’re actually excited to see what he does along with his profession.”
The Sikh Coalition’s authorized efforts usually are not restricted to the Marine Corps. For greater than a decade, the coalition has headed efforts to assist Sikhs serve within the navy. In 2017, the group facilitated non secular lodging within the Army and did the identical for the Air Pressure three years later.
Whereas the Sikh religion facilities round oneness and equality, it’s also steeped in a deep “warrior-saint” custom. Sikhs have been serving within the American navy for greater than 100 years, in addition to different militaries world wide.
Following go away, Pfc. Singh will go to Camp Pendleton in California for added coaching, based on the Sikh Coalition.
— Drew F. Lawrence may be reached at email@example.com. Comply with him on Twitter @df_lawrence.