Sikhs Call for an End to Religious Ban in the U.S. Army
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Sikh Recruits Lead Fight for Integrated Army WASHINGTON, April 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, two Sikh military recruits called on the U.S. Army to end its religious ban and to fully integrate the Army. The two men, both medical professionals in the Army, are being told that they must remove their turbans and cut their unshorn hair and beards - all mandatory articles of the Sikh faith - when they report for active duty in July. (Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20090414/DC98817 ) Captain Kamaljit Singh Kalsi, a doctor, and Second Lieutenant Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, were both assured by military recruiters that their turbans and unshorn hair "would not be a problem" when they were recruited to join the Army's Health Professions Scholarship Program. The program paid for medical training in return for their military service. Both men maintained their turbans throughout graduate school, during specialized Army training, at Army ceremonies, and while working in military medical facilities. Now, the Army is telling the two Sikhs that the recruiters' assurances were false and that they will have to forsake their religious practices if they want to serve. "I was shocked to learn that the Army would go back on its promise, and tell me I would have to give up my faith in order to serve," said Captain Kalsi. "There is nothing about my religion that stops me from doing my job. I know I can serve well without compromising my faith." Captain Kalsi is the fourth generation in his family to serve in the military. In 1981, the Army banned "conspicuous" religious articles of faith for its service members. However, Sikhs and other soldiers of faith who were part of the army before the 1981 rule change were allowed to stay. As a result, Colonel Arjinderpal Singh Sekhon, a doctor, and Colonel G.B. Singh, a dentist, have been serving in the Army with their turbans and unshorn hair for the past twenty-five years. Both men only retired within the last two years. "We chose to hold the news conference here in front of the Marine War Memorial because Sikhs were part of the U.S. military during World War II. Sikh Americans, like all Americans, should have the right to serve their country," said Amardeep Singh, Executive Director of the Sikh Coalition. "In 1948, President Truman integrated our military. Today we are asking the Army to keep his promise of equal opportunities for all Americans." Sikhs have a long history of serving in armed forces throughout the world with their religious identity intact. A Sikh soldier served in the U.S. Army as far back as World War I. Thousands of Sikh soldiers helped liberate France in WWII. Today, Sikhs serve in the militaries of England, Canada, India and Austria, among others, often alongside American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The two recruits were joined today by representatives of the Sikh Coalition, a national civil rights organization. The Coalition, along with the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP, filed a formal complaint this morning with the Department of the Army's Inspector General. The complaint challenges the decision to keep observant Sikhs out of the Army. The group launched the campaign in the shadow of the Iwo Jima War Memorial in Arlington, VA, as a tribute to the Sikh soldiers who fought in the US military in World War II. To learn more, please visit www.sikhcoalition.org/army or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. SOURCE Sikh Coalition Amardeep Singh, Executive Director , +1-917-628-0091 (mobile), or Neha Singh, Advocacy Director, +1-212-729-6141 (mobile), both of the Sikh Coalition