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Sikh Soldier Wins Religious Accommodation

Sikh Soldier Wins Religious Accommodation

Simran Preet Singh Lamba became the first man in over 30 years to be allowed to wear his religiously mandated turban, beard and hear while serving in the Army.  Lambda, a Sikh, was recruited by the Army in 2009 through its Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program because of his language skills in Punjabi and Hindi.  At the time of his recruitment he was told that his religious articles would like be accommodated, prompting Lambda to agree to serve.

But current Army regulations do not permit a new recruit to request a religious accommodation, regardless of faith affiliation.  Lamba, based on the recruiters representations, requested an accommodation anyways through the Army’s Human Resources Command.  His request was formally denied in March.

Lambda is not alone in seeking such an accommodation.  Last year two Sikh Army officers–a medical doctor and a dentist–were granted one-time exceptions.  However Lambda is the first enlisted man to win such an accommodation.

By all accounts, the Army has been willing, despite its regulations, to work with Sikhs and retain their talent.  Lambda’s attorneys had nothing but praise for the branch and released the following statement. “We remain deeply impressed with the Army’s forward-thinking approach in allowing Mr. Lambda to serve with his turban and beard, and reaffirm our call for the Army to consider amendments to its uniform policy that continues to close the door to other Sikh Americans wanting to serve in the U.S. Army.”

A standard criticism of the military is that it remains an inflexible bureaucracy, unable to adapt to the changing security needs of our times.  In many ways this is a fair criticism, but like any large institution, our military is only as flexible and open-minded as its leadership.  Perhaps these steps, both actual and symbolic, represent an opening of the minds of our military leadership.  And even if they are simply more of a pragmatic response to a political necessity–that is, as global dynamics shift so to do military personnel needs–then at the least pragmatism has won out over misdirected visions of just who is an American and what an American soldier is supposed to look like. 

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photo courtesy of KuarArt via Flickr

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48 comments

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2:45AM PDT on Apr 23, 2011

Eileen e. has a point. When I hit my thumb with the hammer, I want to be able to say "Jesus H. Christ On A Stick!" without worrying about offending the Multi-Faith Tolerance Police. Goddamnit, that's what being a Christian nation is all about!

10:57AM PDT on Sep 11, 2010

If the army promised him he could wear his religious attire then the should let him or allow him an honorable discharge. Since the military needs his skills I think they made the correct decision.
I do think that allowing religious freedom in some cases may cause issues and it will need to be reviewed on a case by case basis. If the attire doesn't affect the person ability to perform their assigned duties I don't see an issue.
The policy of the military should be changed to say that religious attire is allowed as long as it doesn't interfere with the persons ability to do their assigned duties.

8:17PM PDT on Sep 10, 2010

Good on the Army. BUT?! How much protection will a turban be against bullets? No offence to Sikhs or other turban wearing faiths, but this accommodation as well meaning as it is could be the death of some serving personnel.

British Columbia has had it's accommodation with regard to turbans in saw-mills and mines. I have yet to see any hard-hat or helmet design that can be worn over a turban to protect the wearer. I would really like to see how this works out.

11:07AM PDT on Sep 9, 2010

Helen, Lambda's religion dictates that he not cut his hair. To force him to get a buzz cut wouldn't be violating his personal taste, it would be violating his deep convictions about his relationship with God and his entire religious community. Do you really think he's just looking for attention?

10:59AM PDT on Sep 9, 2010

A lot of folks seem to be going with the slippery slope argument -- if we allow a Sikh man to wear his turban, then how can we prevent other deviations from the uniform? I agree that there might be some problems that arise, but I think the "where will it end???" is unwarranted. It seems like a fairly clear line to say that a soldier may wear a piece of clothing dictated by his/her religion as long as it does not obscure identification or make it impossible for him/her to perform his/her duties. Such a line doesn't solve all potential problems (for instance, face veils) but it does mean we could embrace religious freedom while ensuring uniformity and discipline. Does anyone genuinely think that if the army allows a soldier to wear his turban (or his yarmulke, or her hijab) then we'll have a swarm of soldiers demanding they be allowed to wear their rabbit costumes, moon shoes, ball gowns, whatever? Mark De Ville recently commented that in Britain Sikhs have served in the military and police forces for many decades -- and I haven't noticed a breakdown in uniform.

Besides, as several people have pointed out, this is about keeping promises as much as it is about religious freedom.

9:58AM PDT on Sep 9, 2010

On one hand i agree that people should be allowed to wear their religious attire, but on the other hand what if this applied to a burqa in a public place (soothing I’m not totally comfortable with- just as sense of security)
In this man's defence he was told he could wear this attire before he joined so I’m glad he got that.

8:09AM PDT on Sep 9, 2010

No I think this is wrong, we have attire that we have worn for centuries and if it is good enough for th rest of the troups it should be good enough for all. It only draws attention away from one person which is what I think this person wants, he should be wearing required attire,...

7:39AM PDT on Sep 9, 2010

We are talking about the US Army, right? Hey, why not, Turbans and bears are cool, next will be cross-dressers, and then . . . but wait, why not just change the dress code so the uniform includes beards and turbans as the uniform? Berets are "old hat" anyway. Another out would be to have converted Simran Preet Singh Lamba's position, which does not seem to be particularly combat-involved, to civil service rank attached to the Army?

5:35AM PDT on Sep 9, 2010

Now if only they would let the LGBT community serve openly we would have a well-rounded and equal military. It's a step in the right direction they just need to keep going that way.

1:46AM PDT on Sep 9, 2010

we have Sikh's in our armed forces and in our police and we have had for over a hundred years here in britain

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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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