Sunday, September 26, 2021

US Marines allow Sikh to wear a turban, sometimes

The New York Times this morning covered the story of First Lt. Sukhbir Toor, 26, the first Marine permitted to wear a turban with his uniform --sometimes.  Sikh troops have been permitted to wear turbans in uniform in the U.K., Australia and Canada  and in other branches of the U.S. military, but it is a first in the 246-year history of the U.S. Marines.  Nearly 100 Sikhs serve in the Army and Air Force wearing full beards and turbans.

 His case demonstrates a conflict in fundamental values: the tradition of discipline and uniformity and the constitutional liberty of freedom to manifest one's religion.  The Marine Corps has made the allowance only to a point.  Lt. Toor can wear a turban in daily dress at normal duty stations, but he cannot do so while deployed to a conflict zone, or when in dress uniform at a ceremonial event, where the public would see it.

  Lt. Toor grew up in the U.S. as a son of Indian immigrants and in the wake of 9/11.  He knew that many Americans associated Sikhs with dangerous religious fanatics and by joining the military he wanted to change that.  He shaved daily and wore a Marine Corps cap without complaint until he was selected for promotion to captain and then he made his formal request for a religious accommodation.  It was decided that he would be allowed to wear a beard and turban except when deployed serving in a combat unit or performing ceremonial duties in dress uniform, which was effectively a denial since he is a combat arms officer.  After he appealed the decision, the Marine Corps retreated somewhat on ordinary duty but not on the ceremonial duties and argued that the mere sight of a deviation from uniformity inherently hinders mission accomplishment.  He has appealed the restrictive decision and has said he will sue the Marine Corps if he loses his appeal.

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