The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Monday for refusing to let a Sikh student at Hofstra University enlist in the school's Reserve Officer Training Corps program unless he shaves his beard, removes his turban, and cuts his hair. The ACLU filed the suit along with United Sikhs, a civil rights and humanitarian relief organization.
Iknoor Singh, a sophomore at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, asked the ROTC program at his school to be exempt from Army grooming and uniform regulations, citing the dictates of his religion. The Army officials rejected Singh's request. The ACLU and United Sikhs say the Army's denial of Singh's request violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which works to prevent laws that substantially and unnecessarily burden an individual's free exercise of religion.
"Our military should strive to welcome and accommodate recruits of all faiths," said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Program on the Freedom of Religion and Belief. "Religious diversity is a strength, not a weakness."
The Army first claimed that Singh’s request would undermine readiness, unit cohesion, standards, health, safety and discipline, but later switched its line, according to a release issued by the ACLU. Following its initial response, the Army then said it could not rule on Singh's request because he had not formally enlisted.
"Choosing between one’s faith and serving one’s country is a choice that no one should have to make," Singh said.
Singh was born and raised in Queens, New York. He is fluent in four languages: English, Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. He aspires to become a military intelligence officer, according to the ACLU.