Sikhs, which are one of the world’s least-understood religious groups because of their signature turbans, have long been barred from U.S. military service because they insist on wearing these turbans over a long unshorn braid of hair plus a beard. This does not square easily with the Army’s insistence on crewcuts for clean-shaven men.
Several Sikh media organizations sent out a press release Friday about a Sikh officer, Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, whom the Army just agreed can keep his religious regalia. He is a New Jersey doctor who was recruited to join the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program several years ago. He maintained his turban throughout his 8 years of medical education, which included specialized Army training, attendance at Army ceremonies and work in military medical facilities.
In June, he was told that he must remove his turban and cut his hair to begin active duty. He appealed that decision and Friday, the Army agreed he was right. Read the press release here from the Sikh Coalition, which adds some interesting details on how 49 members of Congress petitioned the Army to relent. There is also a Sikh dentist involved who is also asking the Army to change its policy.
Sikhs have been ultra-rare in America’s armed forces since the 1980s when the Army revised its dress code concerning the wearing of religious articles. It’s a mystery why it’s taken the Army so long to change on this, as the Canadians - including the Mounties - and the British allow turbaned Sikhs to serve as active duty military.
- Julia Duin, religion editor