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Why there aren’t more Sikhs in the U.S. military

Why there aren’t more Sikhs in the U.S. military

Since 1775, the military has broadly protected
the religious liberty of its troops. But in 1981, the military broke from that
tradition when it passed a ban on all beards. The result? The near total exclusion of the world’s fifth
largest religion – Sikhism. In the early days of the Sikh religion in
south Asia, Sikhs suffered severe religious persecution. Defending themselves and their neighbors became
a core part of their identity. Since then, Sikhs have populated armies worldwide, and earned a reputation among the world’s best warriors. “I’ve had this fascination with the soldier’s
life ever since I was a little kid. You know, hearing stories about my great-grandfather
serving in World War I.” This is Captain Simritpal Singh. He goes by Simmer. Growing up, he was an all-American high school
student, just with a beard and a turban. “I had always had long hair, never cut my
hair. And I had a pretty awesome beard by senior
year of high school.” For Sikhs, unshorn hair, turbans, and beards
symbolize the core principles of their faith; such as…
“equality, justice, and selfless service.” After high school, Simmer was endorsed by
his local congressman and accepted into West Point. On his first day, he wore his beard and turban
thinking he would get an accommodation. He was wrong. Before he knew it, he was faced with a choice;
cut his beard or go home. “And basically, I went inside the barbershop. You know, I had never been inside a barbershop. Sat down, I don’t think the lady knew. She didn’t know the significance. She didn’t know that my entire life was being
changed. Everything that I had been taught was just
being shattered in five minutes. I think the way I made that decision, the
way I justified it in my mind, was that ‘I’ll figure out a way. I’ll figure out a way to come back.’ That was a promise that I made to myself. There are more guys like Simmer out there,
and a handful of them have received accommodations for their beards and turbans. And their success in the military has disproven
the necessity to exclude others like them. Chaplain Goldstein is the longest-serving Jewish
chaplain in the armed forces. “I’ve been in some pretty tough places with
a beard, my helmet. And the mission was never degraded, or challenged,
or threatened.” Major Kamal Kalsi was also accommodated after
petitions from the Sikh community. His medical background during a shortage of
military doctors tipped the scales in his favor. “I can tell you with 100% assurance that none
of my fellow soldiers or patients could care less that I was wearing a turban or beard
while I was treating their wounds.” The Pentagon has claimed that a bearded soldier
can not properly wear a gas mask. But its own soldiers, including Kalsi, Goldstein,
those who wear beards for medical reasons, and even the special forces who wear beards
for tactical advantage – all of them have disproven the Pentagon’s claims. “And as they passed those combat readiness
training exercises, it was validated that the fact that they look a little different
in their appearance does not impact their combat readiness on the battlefield.” Yet, the policy remained. “This picture is of my entire platoon in Afghanistan. I’m in the middle.” Simmer served for 10 years, was trained as
an army ranger, and received a Bronze Star medal for his service. When he learned about soldiers like Major
Kalsi and Chaplain Goldstein, he requested an accommodation of his own. “Soldiers that we were with together from
562 overwhelmingly have been in support of what he’s doing, which I think is a huge testament
to his leadership, and his character, and how much he strives to be an asset to the
army.” But the army stalled for six months, and tried
subjecting him to discriminatory testing that far exceeded the requirements for other soldiers. So in 2016, the Becket Fund, the Sikh Coalition,
and McDermott Will & Emory helped Simmer sue the United States military. Simmer’s secret weapon was the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act, or RFRA, which requires federal entities, including the military, to accommodate
beliefs, absent of compelling government interest. “Without laws like RFRA on the books that
protect religious liberty, it’s very difficult to bring these claims forward. It’s really difficult to advocate for people’s
individual rights, and that has also made a very big difference in our ongoing discussions
with the military.” In 2016, a court ruled that the army’s treatment
of Captain Singh was discriminatory, and told the army to reconsider its regulations. The army ultimately agreed, and in early 2017
they formally revised the 30-year-old ban to let Sikhs serve. “I realized that I didn’t have to live in
two worlds. I would go home and put on my turban when
I was on leave, and then I’d come to work and not be wearing a turban. So I didn’t have to live that life anymore.I could be one person. My hope is that no 18-year-old kid has to
make the miserable decision that I had to make, to choose between their faith and their
country. And that parents can tell their young kids,
you can be anything that you want in the United States – and that includes military service
– and still practice your faith fully.

Reader Comments

  1. someone said "osama bin laden' once to me in US
    and i just felt like "bruh is retarded……" and didnt said anything and went out ….cuz com'n you just called someone something which he isnt and out of blue…while i was washing his hand in washroom.
    was he seriously expecting me to say "i ll kill u" or something i guess..?

  2. Probably because they just don't enlist in the us military very often? Everything that has lack is painted to be a bad thing. Why is this important? Why aren't there more short unathletic white people in the NBA?

  3. When a Sikh would cut his own beard for the sake of joining the army you know he is putting his nation before his own life. That’s way more dedication than the majority of soldiers out there.

  4. How will this go over with the superior(?) Officers, who are tasked with writing and submitting the Captain's "Fitness Reports"?

  5. Why does this video paint the military as discriminating this guys faith. We are not allowed to have beards for one simple reason which was brought up for maybe one second. Your gas mask wont seal properly with facial hair. The m50 has mask which is what the army uses today definitely wont seal with facial hair. It's not to discriminate your faith.

  6. Wow!!, I dont like your rules even though I Volunteered so im going to cry & sue you because im special & rules dont apply to me…
    What a POS, as a Disabled Combat Veteran of 12yrs these are the ones i fear the most because they get people killed..

  7. The sad thing is many ignorant people think they are muslims with their turban. Heck this guys are the real deal and would destroy those aloha snackbar terrorists

  8. The word Sikh means to learn. From there youth they are tough Honor loyalty. If you have a Sikh as a friend then you have a friend who would give his life for you. They are fierce worries in battle. They fought in ww2 against the Nazis. One of the most decorated units in the Indian Army and at one point the most decorated unit in the British Indian Army, the Sikh Regiment's tales of bravery are a legend. Basically they are Highlanders of Asia.



  10. Hell yeah that's dope and at the end of the vid he looks like a badass…🤘🏾🤘🏾🇺🇲🇺🇲🇺🇲🇺🇸

  11. Wait so they tried to sue the military, they should’ve sued the government not the branch that protects us

  12. 2.5 million Indian soldiers served in WW2 covering Europe & Asia. It's such a shame we don't hear more about their sacrifices. They seem to of been wiped from the history books.

  13. In the Canadian armed forces, if you are in a profession that does not require you to wear a gas mask, you are permitted a beard. It used to be for religious reasons only but now every one is allowed a beard.

  14. In sikhism beards are more important than life. If this sikh actually served his beard to serve the army then it means he loves his nation more than he loves his life. A true patriot US army should be proud to have such dedicated soldier.

  15. Sikhs have been reduced in indian forces as well,,now they are no more superior than any other religion,,,,of course they behave like muslims for their khalisthan

  16. Wish the president would just grow a beard……….. lead by example, that’s all the fuss is. Look at presidents with beards…. see if the troops had em in the same time periods.

  17. With all the different accommodations for facial hair in the military it's time to just allow and set grooming regulations for them.

  18. I wish we had more Sikhs in the military. They make exceptional soldiers. Remember the Kirpan carried by Sikhs represents a key and selfless tenet of their faith: To defend the weak and act justly. This and the rest of their Khalsa provide good moral guidance. Historically, they are warriors for justice and supporters of equality between the sexes. Overall, we need more of them enlisted in recognition of their honor and commitment to their country.

  19. This is basically offending Sikhism and jeopardizing what they stand for. But hopefully these soldiers did not kill my brethren (fellow peaceful Muslims).

  20. I’ve met Sikhs in TamilNadu they are really helpful and interesting people. Something about their overall demeanor is really pleasant.

  21. Sikhs majorly live in Punjab region of India. And as an Indian I can without a doubt say that they are one of the most Honourable and Honest people who live here. They would die to protect not just themselves but others.
    There have been several instances when Sikh community has come to help other communities in time of need, during national disaster or after riots or wars, they always help and protect others without a bias.

  22. Everyone shave the beard … How was that discriminatory. When one joins the military … Your priorities is your country not your religion or personal needs of satisfaction. Just my 2 cents

  23. The sihks keep fighting for us in the UK and we love to have them in our ranks! It'd be great to have mixed religions into our cadet detatchment

  24. 🇮🇳🇮🇳🇮🇳never forget your home country we will too become richer stronger and more powerful than us one day!!

  25. did god come and say dont shave your beard, dont show your hair etc? All these are man made restrictions only found in man made religions.

  26. Well I think Sikhism was formed just after removing some negative tacts from Hinduism…..
    Probably it is the best religion in the world

  27. I'm a Sikh , but I'm a nazi Sikh. God bless my brothers and sisters that have been bullied by Northern Indians all these years especially during the riot of 1984. Punjab should separate from India , India is holding back the development of punjab. Fuck India and the northern Indian feudal mentality. Especially their fucking rape cases and stupid Dowry system and many more which I'm too lazy to typr

  28. Real face of Indian army

  29. Yes SIKHS ARE NOT MUSLIMS. Iranians are not Arabs [not that there is anything with that].

    Not all Muslim are in or near the Middle East. Indonesia is one of the biggest Muslim country.

    You don't have to be white to be American. I wish more Americans and their president know about that.

    PS. Africa is not a country.

  30. I guess, if the rule is consciously applicable to all in a secular manner, no exceptions should be entertained.

  31. Being clean cut was never about combat readiness, it's about uniformity which is a fundamental part of being in the U.S military because it emphasizes the unit standards over individual standards. If you make exceptions for Sikh beards and turbans, then why bother enforcing uniformity standards for everyone else? I say this as someone who served in the Army for 15 years.

  32. Sikhs are not even close to Islam, their religion is fake first of all, as Prophet Mohammad was the last messenger of God.

  33. The military claims that they have the regulation to promote uniformity but they were already making exceptions for women's hair and men's beard in sf.

  34. I respect their culture. But think it’s bullshit to not keep up to army standards. Special forces sure grow a beard. But it causes soldiers to be envious and loose unit cohesion. I actually told one what was on my mind and told him it’s bullshit.

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