Second Lawsuit Filed in Fight To End Military Religious Discrimination

March 29, 2016 (Washington D.C.) – Another lawsuit, brought by three new Sikh American soldiers, was filed in federal court this morning against the U.S. Department of Defense. Specialist Kanwar Singh, Specialist Harpal Singh and Private Arjan Singh Ghotra each seek to serve their country without being forced to compromise their religion in the process.

The lawsuit, filed by the Sikh Coalition, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and McDermott Will & Emery, demands that the Army accommodate their religious articles of faith, including turbans, unshorn hair and beards, so that each can begin Basic Combat Training with their various units in May. The lawsuit was filed after the U.S. Department of Defense ignored a written demand letter that was sent on March 23rd.

“We had hoped that we would not have to file a second lawsuit on behalf of three more Sikh American soldiers, who simply want to practice their faith freely while serving their nation,” said the Sikh Coalition’s Legal Director, Harsimran Kaur. “However, the Defense Department has remained unresponsive to their requests for accommodation and the clock is ticking. Action must be taken.”

The new lawsuit follows the March 4, 2016 federal court ruling that the Army was prohibited from subjecting a decorated Sikh American soldier, Captain Simratpal Singh, to unprecedented, discriminatory testing. A final Army decision regarding CPT Singh’s landmark religious accommodation request is due by March 31st.

SPC Kanwar Singh, whose family has a proud tradition of military service in the British Army, was inspired to serve when he attended a Harvard Kennedy School speech given by Senator John McCain encouraging military service. Later that month, he attended the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing and took inspiration in the survivors and those willing to put their lives at risk to serve.

“We would like the opportunity, like every other American, to proudly serve,” said SPC Kanwar Singh, who enlisted in the Massachusetts Army National Guard. “I look forward to joining my battalion for training and making the diverse state of Massachusetts proud.” SPC Harpal Singh, a California Telecommunications Engineering Specialist, was recruited by the U.S. Army Reserve for his foreign language skills. PVT Arjan Singh Ghotra, who is 17, enlisted in the Virginia Army National Guard and is slated to attend basic training before attending George Mason University this fall.

“It is unfortunate that in the face of overwhelming evidence that Sikhs should be permitted to serve, we are once again asking whether our nation’s largest employer will embrace religious freedom and diversity or continue to aggressively thwart progress. It is a sad day for all Americans when our military is on the wrong side of common sense, the law and our shared American values,” said Amandeep Sidhu, Partner at McDermott Will & Emery.

Last year, 27 retired U.S. Generals called on the U.S. Department of Defense to eliminate the ban on observant Sikhs. These generals joined 105 Members of Congress, 15 U.S. Senators, and 21 national Interfaith and civil rights organizations, who had previously signed letters in support of American Sikhs’ right to serve.

“These men are exactly what the Army says it wants: soldiers of integrity, patriotism, and courage,” says Eric Baxter, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, which represents the three Sikh soldiers. “It’s embarrassing that the Army is still quibbling over their beards when militaries in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and India all accommodate Sikhs without a problem. Hasn’t the Army ever heard of Ulysses S. Grant?”

For more information about the Sikh Coalition’s military campaign and the facts surrounding the military ban, click here. To schedule interviews with legal counsel representing all three clients, please contact Mark Reading-Smith or Jagmeet Singh. They will connect you with attorneys from the Sikh Coalition, McDermott Will & Emery, or the Becket Fund.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Endorses Sikh Service

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is supportive of the Sikh American right to serve. Yet Specialist Kanwar Singh (featured in this video), Specialist Harpal Singh and Private Arjan Singh Ghotra were forced to file a lawsuit TODAY demanding that they be given this basic right.Learn more:

Posted by The Sikh Coalition on Tuesday, March 29, 2016

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