Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sikhs Sue Over Army Accommodation of Religious Practices

A lawsuit was filed yesterday by three observant Sikhs who have enlisted in the Army, but who are encountering difficulties in obtaining accommodation to allow them to continue to wear beards, uncut hair, and turbans.  The 54 page complaint (full text) in Singh v. McConville, (D DC, filed 3/29/2016), alleges in part:
[T]he Army has a long pattern and practice of discriminating against Sikhs.... The Army’s regulations promise that soldiers whose religious exercise poses no significant obstacle to the military’s mission will be generously accommodated.... [H]owever, the regulations themselves are defective and foster religious discrimination on a number of levels.... [T]hey force soldiers who need religious accommodations to violate their religious beliefs before they can apply for an accommodation, even if their religious exercises would clearly have no impact on the military’s compelling interests.
The regulations are also ... require soldiers to reapply for a religious accommodation every time they have a “transfer of duty stations, or other significant change in circumstances”..... The ambiguity in the regulations also creates an environment where the Army feels free to delay resolving requests for accommodation for long periods of time, leaving future soldiers in limbo and potentially forcing them to forgo other education and career opportunities while they wait for the Army’s decision.
Becket Fund issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.