American Sikhs Call for an Integrated Army
Sikh Doctors Lead Fight for the Right to Serve
(Washington, DC) April 7, 2009 - This Vaisakhi, the Sikh Coalition will stand alongside two Sikh military recruits to call on the U.S. Army to end its ban on turbans. The men, both medical professionals in the Army, are being told that they must remove their religiously-mandated turbans and cut their unshorn hair and beards when they report for active duty in July.
Today, we are asking for your help to ensure Sikhs’ right to serve.
Captain Kamaljit Singh Kalsi, a doctor, and Second Lieutenant Tejdeep Singh Rattan, a dentist, were part of an Army program that pays for medical education in return for military service. At the time of their enrollment, military recruiters assured both men that their turbans and unshorn hair “would not be a problem.”
Captain Kalsi and Second Lieutenant Rattan maintained their Sikh identity throughout graduate school, during specialized Army training, at Army ceremonies, and in Army medical facilities. Four years later, the Army is telling the two Sikhs that the recruiters’ assurances were false and that they will have to forsake their religious practices.
Next Tuesday, the Sikh Coalition will launch a campaign to protect Sikhs’ right to serve in the U.S. Army with their Sikh identity intact. That day marks the 310th anniversary of Vaisakhi - the day Sikhs received their articles of faith. On April 14, 2009, the Coalition will file a formal complaint with the Department of Defense’s Inspector General on behalf of Captain Kalsi and Second Lieutenant Rattan.
“After four years of training in Army facilities, I was shocked to learn that the Army would go back on its promise, and expect me to choose between my faith or my service to my country,” said Captain Kalsi. “There is nothing about my religion that stops me from doing my job. I know I can serve well without compromising my faith.”
In 1981, the Army banned “conspicuous” religious articles of faith for its service members. However, Sikhs and other soldiers of faith who were part of the army before the 1981 rule change were allowed to stay. As a result, Colonel Arjinderpal Singh Sekhon, a doctor, and Colonel G.B. Singh, a dentist, continued to serve in the U.S. Army with their turbans and unshorn hair for the past twenty-five years. They both retired in 2008. Despite this, Captain Kalsi and Second Lieutenant Rattan are being prohibited from taking up the very same positions in the Army today.
In 2008, the United States celebrated the 60th anniversary of the integration of our armed forces. On that day, President Harry Truman declared “there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.” Today we are asking the military to follow this core American principle with words and actions.
To learn more, please visit our Campaign Action Center. There, you can sign on to a petition, get details for Tuesday’s press conference, and find out about other ways you can help.