A federal judge on Wednesday declined to temporarily halt the Marine Corps’ ban on the Sikh turban, beard and other religious articles of faith in recruit training and certain deployment conditions.

The legal action began in April after Capt. Sukhbir Singh Toor, Jaskriat Singh, Aekash Singh and Milaap Singh Chahal sought to wear their traditional articles of faith in those instances.

The Marine Corps does not allow beards or faith articles to be worn in recruit training, except for medical condition waivers for the beard.

Attorneys for the plaintiff shared a response on U.S. District Judge Richard Leon’s decision Thursday with Marine Corps Times.

They disagree with the decision and that the Marines are doing a, “disservice to both our clients and itself in denying religious rights.”

Giselle Klapper, Sikh Coalition senior staff attorney, said, “Nonetheless, we agree that this issue remains critically important, and we intend to move quickly and decisively to appeal the decision and defend our clients’ rights to a full and favorable resolution.”

Eric Baxter, senior counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said, “No one should have to choose between living according to their faith and serving their country. The court’s ruling sets up a false conflict between faith and service — but as the Marines have rightly said for decades, spirituality makes Marines stronger and more resilient.”

Marine Corps officials previously have declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

The case is far from over.

The request was for a preliminary injunction, which if granted would have stopped the ban until the courts determined the ultimate finding as to whether the ban denies the captain and poolees the right to freedom of religion.

That case will now proceed unless the injunction denial is appealed.

During June oral arguments in federal court in Washington, D.C., the plaintiffs attorneys, with the with assistance from the Sikh Coalition, alongside Winston & Strawn LLP, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, BakerHostetler and the Sikh American Veterans Alliance, argued that the Corps held a double standard by allowing beards for medical conditions present primarily in the Black male population.

They also argued that all three other services ― the Army, Navy and Air Force ― have allowed articles of faith to be worn in training and service or dress uniforms for years.

The Corps is discriminating against them and other faith groups by denying their religious freedom right, the plaintiffs allege.

Attorneys for the Marine Corps argued that part of what makes Marine training so demanding and effective is its “strict uniformity” in recruit training.

Plaintiffs also have argued that failed to fit its definition, as the service does not require female recruits to shave their heads as it does male recruits. The Marine Corps recently integrated female and male recruit training at the company level.

If the plaintiffs win their case, it likely would apply to all recognized faiths, allowing Jewish and Muslim Marines and recruits to wear their own articles of faith in uniform and training.

The Sikh faith has a long legacy of warrior heritage, which calls its members to fight for the oppressed.

The Sikh articles of faith include the beard, turban and “kanga,” a small wooden comb; “kirpan” or small knife or ceremonial sword; “kachera” a cotton short or longer underwear and a “kara,” a small steel bracelet.

In 2021, the Corps modified some of its restrictions, allowing Toor and others to keep beards, turban and other faith articles in uniform. But not in deployed conditions or in ceremonial billets such as the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.

Correction: This article has been updated to correctly reflect the employment reference for Eric Baxter.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

In Other News
Load More