US Marines let Sikh officer wear turban but with riders, he plans to sue Corps

First Lt Sukhbir Toor, a Sikh, says the limits meant that he would have to either sacrifice his career or his ability to practice his religion
A Sikh-American officer in the US Marines who has been allowed to wear a turban but with a few limitations.
A Sikh-American officer in the US Marines who has been allowed to wear a turban but with a few limitations.
Published on Sep 28, 2021 12:59 AM IST
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ByPress Trust of India

A 26-year-old Sikh-American officer in the US Marines who has been allowed to wear a turban --- the first person in the 246-year history of the elite force allowed doing so, but with a few limitations ---- plans to sue the Corps if he is not granted full religious accommodation, according to a media report.

“Almost every morning for five years, First Lt Sukhbir Toor has pulled on the uniform of the United States Marine Corps. On Thursday, he also got to put on the turban of a faithful Sikh,” a report in The New York Times said.

“I finally don’t have to pick which life I want to commit to, my faith or my country. I can be who I am and honour both sides,” Toor said in an interview.

When Toor was promoted as Captain this spring, he decided to appeal. Toor’s case is the latest in a long-running conflict between two fundamental values in the United States military: “the tradition of discipline and uniformity, and the constitutional liberties the armed forces were created to defend,” the NYT said.

However, Toor, who grew up in Washington and Ohio and is the son of Indian immigrants, has been allowed to wear the turban while on duty with limitations. He “can wear a turban in daily dress at normal duty stations, but not while deployed to a conflict zone, or when in dress uniform in a ceremonial unit, where the public could see it.”

The NYT report said Toor has “appealed the restrictive decision to the Marine Corps commandant, and he says that if he does not get a full accommodation, he will sue the Corps.

“The Marine Corps needs to show it really means what it has been saying about strength in diversity — that it doesn’t matter what you look like, it just matters that you can do your job,” he said.

The Corps has maintained that “uniformity was as essential to a fighting force as well-oiled rifles”.

“In order to build squads that will move forward in a combat environment where people are dying, a strong team bond is required,” Col Kelly Frushour, a spokeswoman for Marine Headquarters, said in written responses to The Times on Toor’s case.

“The Corps cannot experiment with the components of mission accomplishment,” Lt Gen David A Ottignon, the deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, said in the response. “Failure on the battlefield is not an acceptable risk.”

Toor said the limits meant that “I would have to either sacrifice my career or my ability to practice my religion.”

Toor appealed to the commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Corps agreed partially, allowing him to wear the turban with certain limitations, according to the report.

The NYT report said that nearly 100 Sikhs currently serve in the Army and Air Force wearing full beards and turbans.

Manvinder Singh, director of United Sikhs, a US-based advocacy group, said : “Sikhs have served in the armed forces worldwide. It is their fundamental right to practice their faith and also defend the nations they represent. The valour that Sikhs have shown in history comes from their faith . The American freedom guarantees through the Bill of Rights for the people to practice their faith while performing their duty. They shouldn’t have to choose between the two”.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021