Iknoor Singh desperately wants to serve his country. The Kew Gardens sophomore hopes to join the Hofstra University campus ROTC en route to a career in military intelligence. Amazingly, the U.S. Army won’t let him unless he first violates his religious beliefs.
Singh is a Sikh. The U.S. Army insists he cut his long hair, shave his beard and remove the turban his faith requires. He has been denied the religious exemption he sought in April 2013, so he and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the U.S. Army.
He shouldn’t be forced to choose between his faith and his country.
The Army’s grooming regulations exist to ensure the safety of soldiers and their units. But by law, the military has to make reasonable accommodations for religious practices and garments that don’t compromise safety. Exemptions have been allowed for at least a handful of Sikhs in the Army who’ve been allowed to keep their hair and turbans.
Singh, 19, a U.S. citizen born and raised in Queens, deserves similar consideration. The business major speaks Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu, languages designated as skills vital to the national interest. If he doesn’t join before his junior year, Singh will be ineligible for a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship covering tuition and fees or room and board, $1,200 a year for books and a $300- to $500-a-month stipend; and he’ll be denied the surest route to become an Army officer.
The Army has put him in an untenable position. After first denying the exemption, officials now insist no decision can be made for a prospective ROTC cadet. So to join the ROTC, Singh would have to cut his hair and beard, which Sikhs grow as a sign of respect for the perfection of God’s creation; and remove his turban, although exposing the head in public is considered sacrilegious and shameful. Only then would the Army decide whether to exempt him from that requirement.
That’s conduct unbecoming a nation grounded in religious freedom.