Two US-based rights groups have filed a lawsuit against the US Army for allegedly not enlisting a Sikh student in the Reserve Officer Training Corps programme, unless he shaved his beard and cut his hair.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with United Sikhs [advocacy websites], filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on Wednesday against the US Army [official website] for refusing to allow a Sikh college student to enlist in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program unless he shaves his beard, removes his turban, and cuts his hair. The student, Iknoor Singh, sought a religious exemption from army grooming regulations in order to enroll in the ROTC program. The army denied his request because they believed the accommodation would undermine readiness, unit cohesion, standards, health, safety and discipline. The army then stated that the request could not be accommodated until Singh was an enlisted member, but in order to enlist, he would first have to comply with the grooming regulations. The lawsuit is claiming violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) [text, PDF].
This complaint comes shortly after the August revision [NYT report] of military standards for allowable hairstyles by African American women. The new regulations were adopted by the army, navy, and air force and now allow hairstyles that are popular in the African American community. In January the Department of Defense [official website] issued an updated policy [text] for all military departments which allows case-by-case religious accommodations for turbans, skullcaps, beards and tattoos. However, the new policy still allows the military to deny requests on the basis of interference with protective clothing or if it adversely affects military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline.
Source: The Jurist