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Capt. Simratpal Singh has dutifully and loyally served in the U.S. Army for nearly a decade despite its grooming and appearance decorum.
Singh’s religious faith as a Sikh requires men to wear turbans and to maintain long hair and beards — all forbidden for active-duty servicemen — and which Singh was required to adhere to in order to serve in the military.
Last Thursday, Singh officially received the first pardon of its kind, a religious exemption, from the U.S. Army to be able to follow the tenets of his religion with regards to his appearance, according to The Sikh Coalition, CNN reported.
“While assigned or performing non-hazardous duties, you may wear a beard, turban, and uncut hair in a neat and conservative manner that presents a professional and well-groomed appearance,” Assistant Secretary of the Army Debra Wada said, according to CNN.
An original short-term accommodation was made in October of last year and expiring in February of this year, along with the stipulation that Singh, and other Sikhs, must undergo special testing to prove that helmets and gas masks could be worn safely with their faith-sanctioned appearance.
After filing a lawsuit last month against the U.S. Department of Defense, the Army announced its decision to allow Singh to wear both his turban and unshorn hair, thus avoiding a legal battle.
This comes as a huge victory for Capt. Singh, who had always felt torn between the requirements of his faith and those of the U.S. Army, and for many others facing similar barriers to the free exercise of their religion.
“I had a childhood fascination with the Army,” he told CNN. “The Sikh concept of standing up for the weak and defending the defenseless is very much at the core of the Sikh psyche, and those are same ideals that the U.S. Army upholds.”
He hopes that his story will encourage others with similar struggles.“I’m proud to be an American soldier,” he said. “I’m grateful the Army is allowing me to serve without being forced to compromise my religion.”
“As a kid, you are told, you can be anything in the U.S., and that rings through even more now,” he stated.
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