| United States | 12 Nov 2015 | Asia Samachar |
Sikh Americans should be given an equal opportunity to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces without violating their religious obligations, urged 27 US retired generals in a letter to US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
“Under your leadership, the U.S. Department of Defense has taken important steps
toward recognizing the importance of religious faith to the lives of our service members. Nevertheless, obstacles remain for patriotic Sikh Americans who wish to serve in our nation’s military while maintaining their articles of faith,” they said in the joint letter.
The letter dated 11 Nov 2015 was another positive move for the Sikh community in their campaign to end religious discrimination by the nation’s largest employer.
Among the signatories were Brig Gen (Rt) Clara Adams-Ender, the former commander of Ft. Belvoir and former Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. The 76-old Adams-Ender was the first African-American nurse corps officer to graduate from the United States Army War College.
Another signatory was Brigadier General (Rt) John Adams, the former Deputy United States Military Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and a veteran of the Operation Desert Storm (1991).
The letter, released at The Sikh Coalition Facebook page, comes just days after the Sikh community members joined Major Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, interfaith leaders, and members of the military for a wreath laying ceremony at the special Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on 9 Nov.
“The purpose of the event was to pay tribute to service, while also acknowledging that Sikhs continue to struggle for the same basic right to serve, the coalition said.
The letter from the retired general goes on:
Devout Sikhs wear turbans and maintain unshorn hair, including beards, in accordance with their religious beliefs. They are admired throughout the world for their martial prowess and serve with distinction in the armed forces of Canada, India, and the United Kingdom. Although Sikhs have served honorably in the U.S. military since World War I, restrictive appearance regulations adopted in 1981 created barriers to their service.
Revisions earlier this year to DOD Instruction 1300.17 make it possible for service members to request religious accommodations; however, the new guidelines presumptively exclude Sikh articles of faith, forcing Sikhs to repeatedly apply for waivers and even violate their religion while an accommodation request is pending.
Since 2009, the U.S. Army has granted individualized accommodations to three Sikh Americans, who wear turbans and maintain unshorn hair, including beards. All three of these service members wear turbans and maintain beards in a neat and conservative manner, and all of them can wear helmets and protective gas masks, in conformity with safety requirements. Two of them deployed to Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star Medal and MSM NATO Medal for their service.
Given the success of these service members, we believe that Sikh Americans should be given an equal opportunity to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces without violating their religious obligations.
In 1948, President Harry Truman promised “that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.” We urge you to strengthen DOD Instruction 1300.17 and make this promise real for patriotic Sikh Americans who wish to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.
“The message is clear that our military needs to abandon this misguided policy and the chorus of voices who support this effort is continuing to grow louder,” the coalition said in a Facebook entry.
The Sikh Coalition seeks to end the ban against Sikhs serving in the military with their articles of faith (e.g., turbans, unshorn hair/beards), it said in a FAQ on its military campaign.
“Currently, observant Sikhs must cut their hair, shave their beards, and remove their turbans to serve. Since 2009, the Sikh Coalition has obtained individual exceptions for three observant Sikhs with specialized skills to serve in the U.S. Army. Although we cracked open the door, we are still fighting to change the military’s presumptive policy, which continues to bar observant Sikhs from serving,” it adds.
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]
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