New York, Aug 14, 2023 (IANS): A Sikh army recruit, who fought a two-year-long legal battle to keep his articles of faith, has graduated from the US Marine Corps recruit training with his turban, beard and unshorn hair, paving way for religious freedom in the American military.
Jaskirat Singh, who was shipped off for boot camp in May, graduated on August 11 after three months of hard training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
“I am honored to serve my country in the Marine Corps, and proud that I was able to do so while respecting my Sikh faith,” Jaskirat was cited as saying in a Sikh Coalition release.
“I hope that my graduation sends a clear message to other young Sikhs who are considering military service: Your faith does not have to be a barrier to any career,” he said.
“He was a squad leader throughout training,” Major Joshua Pena, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, told Military.com.
“He met all the standards. He’s a Marine… We’re really excited to see what he does with his career,” Major Pena added.
Jaskirat, along with Aekash Singh and Milaap Singh Chahal, had sued the US government in April last year after the Marine Corps offered an accommodation that would require Sikhs to surrender their turbans and beards while at boot camp.
They argued that allowing Sikhs to wear religious beards would disrupt troop uniformity and appearance among the recruits, ultimately threatening national security.
In a historic move last December, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately granted a preliminary injunction to allow Jaskirat to attend recruit training with his articles of faith.
The court cited that the present Corps’ boot camp rule of cutting hair and shaving beards as a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
“Singh (Jaskirat) is the latest in a long line of Sikhs to prove that turbans and beards pose no barrier to honorable and capable military service. Now, with a forward-looking policy change, the Marine Corps can ensure that it continues to welcome more capable recruits from all faith backgrounds,” Amandeep S. Sidhu from Winston & Strawn LLP, said.
“His achievement is yet another testament to the simple fact that no one should be made to choose between any career and their religious beliefs,” Giselle Klapper, Deputy Legal Director of the Sikh Coalition, said.
Jaskirat’s case was represented by the Sikh Coalition, Winston & Strawn, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and BakerHostetler.
Other branches of the US military — the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard — already accommodate the religious requirements of Sikhism.