Two US-based rights groups have filed a lawsuit against the US army for allegedly not enlisting a Sikh student in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programme unless he shaved his beard and cut his hair.
The lawsuit, filed by United Sikh and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Wednesday in the US district court for the District of Columbia asks the court to order army officials to permit Singh to enlist in the programme while maintaining his religious practices. The two groups alleged that the student was denied enlisting unless he shaved his beard, removed his turban and cut his hair.
Iknoor Singh, a student of Hofstra University, had requested for religious exemption from military rules so that he could join ROTC to pursue his life-long dream of serving in the army without violating his faith, United Sikh said in a statement.
However, army officials rejected his request, it alleged.
The lawsuit argues that the army’s denial of the religious exemption violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which provides heightened legal protection for religious exercise.
“Sikhs have a tradition of military service around the world where they are permitted to serve with their articles of faith intact,” Manmeet Singh, a staff attorney with United Sikh said.
United Sikh alleged that after claiming that Singh’s requested accommodation would undermine readiness, unit cohesion, standards, health, safety, and discipline, US Army officials later said they could not rule on Singh’s request as he had not “formally enlisted”.
Photo courtesy: HUFFINGTONPOST