Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sikh student permitted to enter ROTC program

Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that the Army cannot prevent a Sikh college student from enrolling in the ROTC program at Hofstra University in New York. The decision in Singh v. McHugh can be found here. From the opinion:
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, and for the additional reasons set forth below, defendants’ dispositive motions will be denied and 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.
The decision is subject to appellate review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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