6 reasons why Sikhs should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military

A few days ago, a Sikh student by the name of Iknoor Singh won a legal battle to join the ROTC program at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York. Singh, who is a practicing Sikh, refused to shave his beard and remove his turban in order to meet the military uniform requirements for the program. In 2013, he contested the requirement as a violation of his free exercise rights. In what Singh describes as a “shocking” decision, a federal judge agreed with Singh and subsequently allowed him to legally join the program without compromising fundamental tenets of his faith.

Naysayers and self-described patriots were quick to jump on the occasion, making claims that the Court’s decision would “disrupt unit cohesion” and that Singh should be forced to accommodate to “Western military attire.” As both an avid turban enthusiast and American citizen plagued with the terrible “Sikhness” of patriotism, I’m going to systematically deconstruct the argument against Sikhs joining the military. Here goes nothing:

  1. When you enlist, you take an oath to protect the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. A Constitution that guarantees in its 1st amendment the right to free exercise of faith. How can you not honor the very document you’ve sworn to protect? Our country was literally founded on the notion of free exercise and denying that to someone — especially someone who wishes to serve their country and also partake in that protection — is inherently un-American.
  2. Wearing a turban does not disrupt unit cohesion. Moreover, camaraderie and solidarity amongst units is not solidified by aesthetics. I’m fairly certain that’s the same argument that was made against African Americans in WWII and is still being used against members of the LGBT community now. Aesthetics do not dictate unit cohesion. Solidarity, loyalty, and a sense of brotherhood generate cohesion amongst servicemembers — not the length of a beard.
  3. What the hell does Western culture mean? The only reason “Western culture” continues to exist is because the allied forces fought back fascists in Europe and the Pacific. The same allied forces that utilized over 100,000 Sikh soldiers in the British military. I’m not sure how much more Western you can get than by fighting for her royal majesty. 60% of the British forces that fought off the Japanese invasion into Burma were comprised of Sikhs. The same Japanese that flew over Pearl Harbor on that terrible December day in 1941.
  4. Wearing a turban or having a beard does not by any means hinder the ability to perform the required technical duties of a soldier. Major Kalsi who is currently serving as medical director in Fort Bragg has never once demonstrated any semblance of inability to perform his required duties. He has cared for troops when he was deployed in Helmand, Afghanistan and was repeatedly gassed just to demonstrate that his beard did not impede any technical requirements.
  5. Not allowing turbans is a recent revelation. Up until 1981, turbans were welcomed. So both a domestic and international precedent exist. Our closest allies, including Canada and the United Kingdom — currently and historically — have allowed for turbaned troops.
  6. It’s just wrong. Forcing someone to choose between their faith and their country is not an American conviction. One nation, under god, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Those are words I believe in. Those are words my father — a man who came to this country 35 years ago — believes in. Most importantly, those are words the 700,000 Sikhs currently living in the United States believe in. Thousands of whom wish to serve their country but are bound by an unequivocally un-American predicament. Sikhs have a robust military history and a fierce and unquestionable loyalty to their country. Arguing that their patriotism will disrupt unit cohesion or infringe on a nebulously defined western culture is frankly, insulting.