Even as two Sikh men are set to ship out to Marine boot camp with their articles of faith, the Marine Corps’ rules limiting turbans, beards and other Sikh religious symbols will continue to be put to the test in 2023.

A panel of judges for the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Dec. 23, 2022, issued a preliminary injunction that will allow Jaskirat Singh and Milaap Singh Chahal to become Marine recruits without giving up their articles of faith.

The two men, along with Aekash Singh, had sued Defense Department officials in April 2022, arguing that rules barring them from wearing long hair, turbans and beards during boot camp violated their rights to religious liberty.

Jaskirat Singh and Milaap Singh Chahal plan to ship off to boot camp “as soon as their personal circumstances allow,” according to Amrith Kaur Aakre, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, one of the organizations representing the plaintiffs.

“They have been in limbo for so long, so they have taken on additional commitments which they must wrap up before they can ship out,” Aakre told Marine Corps Times via email. “Additionally, we want to ensure they have a smooth and safe transition to Recruit Training, so those details must be ironed out before they go.”

She added that the two men are also waiting to hear whether the Marine Corps will appeal the judge’s decision granting the injunction.

Aekash Singh, meanwhile, is waiting on a decision from a district court whether he requires an injunction immediately. The appeals court wasn’t so sure, since “counsel has advised this court that Aekash Singh may have postponed his plans to enlist until at least 2024.”

A statement from the Sikh Coalition on Dec. 23, 2022, said Aekash Singh planned to attend Officer Candidates School rather than recruit training.

The Corps previously has offered grooming accommodations for Sikh men, but only after boot camp and not while deployed in combat zones. In defending the restrictions for boot camp, lawyers for the government argued that Marine recruits need to adhere to uniform grooming standards so they can build a spirit of cohesion.

Col. Adam Jeppe, the Corps’ head of manpower military policy, wrote a declaration for the case. “The expeditionary mindset requires a commitment that runs counter to humanity’s most primal survival instincts. In the Marine Corps’ judgment, to be effective, every member of the team must commit to accepting a role in support of the team and demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice individually in order to carry out that role.”

In their opinion announcing the injunction, the panel of judges pointed out that other military branches accommodate Sikhs and that even the Marine Corps allows different grooming standards for women and for men with chronic razor burn.

A fourth plaintiff, Marine Capt. Sukhbir Toor, is seeking the right to wear his articles of faith while in combat zones.

After depositions and legal briefings about the recruit training issue conclude in early February, Aakre told Marine Corps Times, “a schedule will be set for the second phase of the case, which involves the career limiting and insufficient accommodation that Captain Toor is subject to, and which our pre-accession clients will have once they graduate from Recruit Training.”

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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