The South Asian Times

21 July 2019 04:55 AM

Sikh Airman allowed turban on duty

By PTI

Washington, DC: Indian-Americans, including a top American lawmaker, applauded the historic decision granted by the US Air Force to a Sikh-American servicemen to wear a turban, beard, and unshorn hair while on active-duty.

Airman 1st Class (A1C) Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa an Airman near Lakewood, Washington State was authorized to adhere to Sikh religious grooming and dress principles while serving his country.

Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera applauded the decision of the US Air Force to the authorize the first active Airman to wear a turban, beard, and long beard in adherence to his religious beliefs. 

"Sikhs have long played an important role in protecting and defending our nation," he said.

"It is only right that these patriots be able to serve while in their religious attire or grooming. I urge the Department of Defence to expand these religious accommodations and make them more easily accessible," Bera said.

Previously, Sikhs were not permitted to adhere to certain Sikh beliefs due to grooming and dress guidelines.

In 2017, the Army became the first military branch to allow Sikh Americans to receive career-long accommodations to wear articles of faith. 

Bera, in concert with the Sikh Coalition, advocated for a constituent from California's 7th District, Private Shabaddeep Singh Jammu, to obtain long-term religious accommodation.

As a first-generation American born to an immigrant family, A1C Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa enlisted in the Air Force in 2017, eager to give back by serving his country. At the time, he was not permitted to practice certain Sikh beliefs due to Air Force grooming and dress rules, Sikh American Legal Defence, and Education Fund (SALDEF) said.

However, after learning about religious accommodations granted recently to Sikh service members in the US Army, as well as a religious accommodation allowing a Muslim Air Force JAG Corps officer, Captain Maysaa Ouza, to wear hijab, A1C Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa contacted Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA) to determine whether he, too, would be eligible for an accommodation.

The SAVA, through its pro bono counsel BakerHostetler, then connected Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa with the ACLU, which had successfully represented Captain Ouza and had won a groundbreaking lawsuit against the Army, requiring religious accommodation of a Sikh ROTC cadet. In response to a letter sent by the ACLU on Mr Bajwa's behalf, the Air Force approved his accommodation request.

"As one of the first Sikh service members to receive a religious accommodation from the Army, I'm proud to see Mr Bajwa become the first active Airman allowed to wear his Sikh articles of faith while in uniform. Sikhs have a long history of serving in militaries around the world, and I'm confident that Mr Bajwa will represent that tradition honorably," said Lieutenant Colonel Kamal Kalsi Singh, president of SAVA.

"SALDEF is thrilled with the announcement that Airman 1st Class (A1C) Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa received accommodations from the Air Force to wear his turban and remain unshaven," said Kiran Kaur Gill, SALDEF executive director.

Heather L Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, applauded the Air Force's decision.

"No one should have to choose between following their faith or serving their country. We're pleased that the Air Force granted our client's request, and we hope that all branches of the military come to recognize the importance of religious inclusion and diversity," Heather L Weaver said.

Update: 15 June, 2019

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