Saturday, June 13, 2015

Court Orders Religious Accommodation For Sikh Student Seeking To Enter ROTC Program

In Singh v. McHugh, (D DC, June 12, 2015), the D.C. federal district court ordered the Army to grant a religious accommodation to dress and grooming requirements to allow a Sikh college student to enroll in the ROTC program at Hofstra University.  The court relied heavily on the Supreme Court's decision this term in Holt v. Hobbs in refusing to completely defer to military judgment, saying in part:
The Court finds that defendants have failed to show that the application of the Army’s regulations to this plaintiff and the denial of the particular religious accommodation he seeks further a compelling government interest by the least restrictive means. Therefore ... judgment will be entered in favor of the plaintiff. The Court accords substantial deference to the Army’s judgments concerning the essential role that uniformity plays in military training and effectiveness. But given the tens of thousands of exceptions the Army has already made to its grooming and uniform policies, its successful accommodation of observant Sikhs in the past, and the fact that, at this time, plaintiff is seeking only to enroll in the ROTC program, the Army’s refusal to permit him to do so while adhering to his faith cannot survive the strict scrutiny that RFRA demands. This decision is limited to the narrow issue presently before the Court – plaintiff’s ability to enroll in ROTC with his turban, unshorn hair, and beard – and it does not address plaintiff’s eventual receipt of a contract or an Army commission.