3 Sikhs appeal to wear beards, turbans at US Marine corps: Reports

The Marines have said that the enforcement of the Corps' rules is necessary to maintain uniformity for the national interest.

Washington: Three prospective Sikh Marine recruits have made an emergency appeal in the US federal court that they are allowed to attend the basic training of the elite forces without having to remove their religiously mandated uncut hair, beards, and turbans, according to media reports.

Judges at the District of Columbia’s Court of Appeals heard arguments by the trio of recruits — Aekash Singh, Jaskirat Singh, and Milaap Singh Chahal on Tuesday who is in a lawsuit against Marine Corps Commandant David H Berger.

They appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in September after a lower-court judge denied their request for a preliminary injunction that would have allowed the men to enter Marine Corps Basic Training with their articles of faith, the Marine Times reported.

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The Marines have said that the enforcement of the Corps’ rules is necessary to maintain uniformity for the national interest.

Brian Springer, a Justice Department lawyer representing the Marine Corps, said the country’s chief expeditionary force has the right to insist on greater uniformity among recruits during basic training.

Countering the statement, Judge Patricia Millett, said that the argument makes no sense, because nobody during boot camp is going out as an expeditionary force.”

In the Sikh religion, it is mandatory for the male adherents to not trim their hair and beard along with keeping kanga (wooden comb), kirpan (small sword), kara (steel bracelet), and a white cotton undergarment (kachera).

The Marine Corps has fought against the recruits’ wishes saying that it is imperative that everyone at boot camp go through a similar experience and have one identity.

“The Plaintiffs are seeking extraordinary relief and the alteration of long-standing Marine Corps training policies,” Brian Springer, an attorney for the federal government was quoted as saying by Military.com.

“It is perverse to claim that respecting ‘the individual desires of Marines’ to have full-body tattoos … is consistent with the Marine Corps’ image, but that respecting (the four Sikhs’) desires to be faithful to God is somehow antithetical to the idea of cohesiveness and uniformity within the service,” read the original complaint filed in April, which included a fourth recruit who is no longer attached to the case, the report said.

As the Marine Corps previously denied all these requests, the three plaintiffs have remained poolees (signing the paperwork to enlist but not yet starting boot camp), for years.

As the legal process drags on, the attorneys of the recruits hope for a preliminary injunction that would at least allow them to go through training.

However, the Marine Corps has said it would allow them to wear the articles of faith with limitations after the 13 weeks of boot camp conclude.

This is not the first time the Marine Corps has been asked to make an exception for its recruits.

In 2021, the Corps allowed Marine Capt. Sukhbir Singh Toor and others to keep beards, turban, and other faith articles in uniform. However, they weren’t deployed or in ceremonial billets, as reported by Marine Corps Times.

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