Sikhs Challenge US Army's Ban On Turbans, Beards

June 14, 2009

Author: Deepti Hajela

Source: The Washington Post

Wire Service: AP

Military service is in Capt. Kamaljit Singh Kalsi's blood.

His father and grandfather were part of India's Air Force. His great-grandfather served in the army in India under the British. So when U.S. Army recruiters talked to him during his first year of medical school, he readily signed up.

But his plans to go on active duty in July are now on hold. An Army policy from the 1980s that regulates the wearing of religious items would mean he would need to shave his beard and remove the turban he wears in accordance with his religious precepts.

Kalsi and another Sikh man with the same concerns, Second Lt. Tejdeep Singh Rattan, are the centerpieces of an advocacy campaign launched by the Sikh Coalition as it tries to persuade the Army to let them serve without sacrificing their articles of faith.

"I'm an American, there's no reason why I can't serve," Kalsi, 32, said.

The Army has a long-standing interest in how its members carry themselves, with policies that ban exotic hair colors, long fingernails or certain colors of lipstick. Army officials declined to comment on the reasoning behind its policy that would force the Sikh men to give up their religious displays. Sikhs who were active-duty military when the policy was adopted were allowed to continue serving without shaving their beards or removing their turbans.

The Pentagon and other military institutions wouldn't comment. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group, was unfamiliar with the policy's origins.