Army allows Sikh soldier to keep his beard
© Courtesy The Sikh Coalition

The Army has granted a temporary religious accommodation for a Sikh member of the armed forces, who will be allowed to wear a beard and turban when he reports to a new post on Monday.

"My Sikh faith and military service are two core parts of who I am,” Capt. Simratpal Singh, 27, said in a statement issued Monday. 

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"I am proud to serve my country as an Officer and I look forward to being able to continue serving without having to give up my religious beliefs," he added.

Singh last week received a one-month religious accommodation to wear "a beard, turban, and uncut hair in a neat and tidy manner that presents a professional and well-groomed appearance."

The Army, which maintains meticulous grooming standards, must decide whether to make the accommodation permanent. It has granted thousands of exceptions for beards based on medical reasons, according to a legal group working on behalf of Singh, which said his accommodation is only the fourth such given since the early 1980s. 

“Anyone who observed our unshaven special forces in Afghanistan knows a beard won’t stop an American soldier,” said Eric Baxter, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit public interest law firm representing Singh.
 
“Now the Pentagon just needs to make Captain Singh’s exemption permanent. In fact, it should explain why it is using the beard ban to discriminate against any Sikh American," Baxter added.
 
Singh, who reports to his new post Monday at Fort Belvoir, Va., graduated from West Point with honors nearly a decade ago and served in Afghanistan. He stopped shaving before a new assignment this fall, according to The New York Times.