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Court Rules That Sikh Can Join The Army’s ROTC Without Losing The Beard, Hair Or Turban

A federal court judge has just ruled that Iknoor Singh, a Sikh, can join the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps without having to shave his beard, cut his hair or lose his turban.

Iknoor, a 20-year-old college student from New York, sued the U.S. Army after being told that ROTC enlistment would require him to meet military grooming standards. His first request for religious accommodation was flat-out denied, and after his second request, he was told that he could apply for an exemption after enlistment. For Singh, this meant that would have to violate his beliefs first in order to protect them.

Singh belongs to the 500-year-old religion Sikhism, which first began in India. According to Sikhism, males cannot cut their hair, and must maintain a beard and wear a turban.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and United Sikhs, Singh sued the Army. Lawyers pointed out that there are four other Sikh men in the military who have been granted accommodation without damage to military readiness.

The suit has been ongoing for three years, but last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman finally ruled that there was no contradiction between Singh maintaining religious standards of grooming and effective military service, Military.com reports.

“It was kind of surreal,” Singh told The Associated Press. “This is something I have been fighting for two or three years. I’m excited and nervous; very excited to learn.”

Last year, the Department of Defense introduced a policy stating that service members can apply for religious waivers. Officials will assess each application individually and reject the ones that violate military readiness standards. Approval is also contingent on where the applicant is stationed.

Singh is studying finance at Hofstra University. A spokeswoman for Hofstra confirmed that the university is fully behind him and “supports Mr. Singh’s desire to serve his country, as well as his right to religious expression and practice. We are pleased that the courts have affirmed that he can do both as a member of the ROTC.”

He wants to work in military intelligence.

Follow Jonah Bennett on Twitter

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