By Tom Gjelten.
If a Muslim woman may wear a headscarf at work, as the U.S. Supreme Court has now affirmed, perhaps a Sikh man should be able to wear a turban while serving in the U.S. military.
So argues the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy organization that has long opposed a Pentagon ban on facial hair and religious headgear among service members. That campaign got at least a moral boost with this week’s court decision.
“What I’m anticipating with this decision is that we will have a move in this country to recognize the right of individuals from different religious backgrounds to live in an America that does not discriminate against them on the basis of how they appear,” says Simran Jeet Singh, the senior religion fellow for the Sikh Coalition.
As a general rule, the Department of Defense prohibits facial hair and the wearing of religious headgear among service members, though it offers “accommodation” on a case-by-case basis in recognition of “sincerely held beliefs.”
Such waivers, however, are given only when they would not undermine “military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or any other military requirement.”
In practice, those considerations can present major obstacles. Currently, just three observant Sikh men serve in the U.S. military, all in the Army, and all are in noncombat positions. That’s out of an active-duty military force of 1.4 million.