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Press Release: HASC Hearing on Religious Accommodations Fails to Address Sikh Loophole

For Immediate Release

 

Press Contact: Mark Reading-Smith

Media & Communications Director, The Sikh Coalition

Mark@sikhcoalition.org, 202-380-8489

 

November 19, 2014 (Washington, DC) – Today the House Armed Services Committee held a Congressional hearing to examine religious accommodations in the U.S. military.

 

The Sikh Coalition submitted written testimony for the hearing but was disappointed that the Committee did not address discrimination against Sikh Americans who wish to serve in the U.S. military while practicing their religion.

 

“For more than five years, we’ve been telling Congress to fix loopholes that deny Sikhs an equal opportunity to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces,” said Rajdeep Singh, Director of Law and Policy for the Sikh Coalition.  “We were hoping that the Committee would address this issue at today’s hearing, but it was ignored.”

 

This hearing comes one week after a lawsuit was brought on behalf of a Sikh American student at Hofstra, who has claimed the service has refused to grant him religious accommodation without shaving his beard, cutting his hair and removing his turban.

 

While this lawsuit is new, the issue of Sikhs having to choose between their country and their faith is not.  Since 2009, three Sikh Coalition clients have received rare permission to serve in the U.S. Army while wearing turbans and beards.  All three have won awards and promotions for their service, which included two successful deployments to Afghanistan, and all three have been able to comply with safety requirements for helmets and gas masks.  Sikhs are permitted to practice their faith in the militaries of Canada and the United Kingdom, among others.

 

In January, the Pentagon issued new religious accommodation guidelines, but critics have pointed out that these guidelines contain loopholes, including a Catch-22 that requires Sikhs to violate their religion while an accommodation request is pending.

 

Earlier this year, at the request of the Sikh Coalition, 105 Members of the House of Representatives and 15 Senators signed letters to Defense Secretary Hagel urging the Pentagon to eliminate these loopholes. 

 

The Sikh Coalition can make Rajdeep Singh immediately available for interview, as well as our military clients, and attorney-experts who have worked on this issue for the last five years today. Please reach out to Mark Reading-Smith if interested in covering and he can connect you immediately to additional resources. Here is a documentary trailer on the subject that we’re launching this Friday.

 

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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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