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Marine who sued Corps for turban, beard graduates basic training

Simranpreet Singh Lamba puts on his dastar, the Sikh turban. Lamba was one of the first soldiers to receive an accommodation for religious attire. (U.S. Army)
August 15, 2023

Private First Class Jaskirat Singh, age 21, is the first Marine to have completed boot camp with the Sikh articles of faith, which includes a turban, a beard, unshaved hair, and a steel bracelet.

Singh graduated Friday from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. In December 2022, a federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. Marine Corps’ refusal to grant religious accommodations to Singh and two other Sikh men of faith was a violation of religious liberty.

“My personal hope is that today’s events can show other young Sikhs that if they want to pursue a career in the military, they can do so while staying true to their faith,” Singh said following Friday’s graduation ceremony.

According to Military Times, the Sikh faith traditionally involves men wearing turbans, having long hair and beards, as well as steel bracelets, as symbols of the Sikh religion. While the Marine Corps recently allowed Sikh service members to wear these symbols of faith in active duty, with the exception of combat zones, the Marine Corps had not previously allowed Sikh recruits to wear Sikh articles of faith during boot camp training.

As a result of its restrictions, the Marine Corps remained the only military branch that did not allow Sikh recruits to wear articles of faith during military training, according to the Sikh Coalition.

In April 2022, Jaskirat Singh, Milaap Singh Chahal and Aekash Singh filed a federal lawsuit in April of 2022, which challenged the Marine Corps’ ban on wearing articles of faith during boot camp training.

At the time, the three men were designated as poolees, which meant they had signed up to join the Marine Corps but had not yet left for boot camp training.

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According to Military Times, the three men submitted their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit in September of 2022, following a Washington, D.C., judge’s refusal to provide a preliminary injunction to allow the men to wear their faith articles at boot camp.

While the Justice Department argued that the Marine Corps grooming standards and regulations contributed to a shared identity among Marine recruits during boot camp, Judge Patricia Millett ruled that the Marine Corps had to provide religious accommodations for the three men throughout the boot camp process.

“[T]he Marine Corps has failed to demonstrate that denying Plaintiffs the same accommodations during boot camp that they would be given during later service in the Corps is the ‘least restrictive means’ of advancing its interest in developing unit cohesion and a team-oriented mindset,” she wrote.

Following a preliminary injunction by a lower-court judge in April, Singh was provided with a list of uniform accommodations for the boot camp training process.

When Marine recruits had to wear the traditional camouflage uniform, Singh was required to wear an informal cloth turban instead of the formal turban. While Singh was required to follow other revised guidelines regarding the wearing of his faith articles, the Marine Corps allowed him to practice his religious beliefs in line with the court’s decision.

“I’m proud to demonstrate that wearing a turban or a beard does not make me any different or less of a Marine, and I intend to prove that in the future,” Singh said.