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27 Generals Demand Military Abandon Religious Discrimination Policy

For Immediate Release


November 11, 2015 (Washington D.C.) – Twenty-seven retired U.S. Generals have joined the growing chorus of Americans calling on the U.S. Department of Defense to eliminate the prohibitive ban on Sikh Americans serving in the U.S. military.

The letter, delivered this morning to Defense Secretary Carter, pointed out that no American should have to choose between their faith and the right to serve our nation.

“On Veterans Day, we honor Americans who have served our country, but it's also a time to understand there are some Americans who still struggle for the basic right to serve,” said retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling (U.S. Army).

Devout Sikhs wear turbans and maintain unshorn hair, including beards, in accordance with their religious beliefs. For generations, Sikhs have served in the U.S. military, but in 1981 a prohibitive ban restricting articles of faith was put into place. Over the past six years, the U.S. Army has only granted three individual accommodations.

These individuals – Major Kamal Singh Kalsi, Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, and Corporal Simranpreet Singh Lamba - have sealed gas masks, deployed and served in forward operating positions, received awards and promotions, and protected the lives of fellow Americans.

“Sikh Americans have a proud history of honorable and selfless military service,” said retired Brigadier General Jeffrey Kendall (U.S. Air Force). “A person's faith should not create artificial barriers to recruitment and retention, especially when simple accommodations are both easily available and proven in combat.”

These letters add to the growing chorus, which was previously joined by 105 Members of Congress, 15 U.S. Senators, and 21 national interfaith and civil rights organizations, all of whom signed letters last year in support of American Sikhs’ right to serve.

“Religious discrimination by our military runs counter to some of the most basic values that we all have signed up to protect,” said retired Major General Steven Hashem (U.S. Army).

Since 2009, The Sikh Coalition has been working with their co-counsel at McDermott Will & Emery LLP to change the prohibitive policy and successfully obtained accommodations for the three Sikh Americans serving with their articles of faith in the military since then.

“Our nation’s largest employer is discriminating on account of faith,” said the Sikh Coalition’s Law and Policy Director, Arjun Singh. “We thank each General for their support and agree that the military must become an equal opportunity employer.”

For more information about the Sikh struggle to serve or to request interviews with Sikh military clients, U.S. generals who signed the letter, or policy experts, please contact Mark Reading-Smith.


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About the Sikh Coalition

The Sikh Coalition is a community-based organization that works towards the realization of civil and human rights for all people. In particular, we work towards a world where Sikhs may freely practice and enjoy their faith while fostering strong relations with their local community wherever they may be.

We pursue our mission by:

  • Providing direct legal services to persons whose civil or human rights are violated;
  • Advocating for law and policies that are respectful of fundamental rights;
  • Promoting appreciation for diversity through education; and
  • Fostering civic engagement in order to promote local community empowerment

With a full-time staff of 10 and offices in New York City, Fremont, CA and Washington D.C., we are the most-staffed Sikh organization in the history of the United States.


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