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HomeAmericaHistoric Achievement: Sikh Man Graduates from Marine Recruit Training with Articles of...

Historic Achievement: Sikh Man Graduates from Marine Recruit Training with Articles of Faith

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On August 11th, Private First Class (PFC) Jaskirat Singh graduates from U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Recruit Training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego, having completed Recruit Training with a historic accommodation allowing him to maintain his Sikh articles of faith throughout.

“I am honored to serve my country in the Marine Corps, and proud that I was able to do so while respecting my Sikh faith,” said PFC Singh. “I hope that my graduation sends a clear message to other young Sikhs who are considering military service: Your faith does not have to be a barrier to any career.”

As a reminder, PFC Singh is represented by the Sikh Coalition, Winston & Strawn, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and BakerHostetler, with support from the Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA). A timeline of his efforts to serve in the USMC are as follows:

  • In November of 2021, with assistance from legal counsel, Mr. Singh submitted a request for an accommodation to serve in the USMC with his articles of faith. 
  • In February of 2022, Mr. Singh was offered an incomplete and insufficient accommodation by the USMC–including a provision that would require him to sacrifice his turban and beard while at boot camp. 
  • In April of 2022, after significant back-and-forth regarding the accommodations offered to Mr. Singh and three additional clients, the Sikh Coalition, Winston & Strawn, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and BakerHostetler file suit against the U.S. government.
  • In August of 2022, a U.S. District Court judge denied a preliminary injunction that would have allowed Mr. Singh and others to attend Recruit Training; we and our partners appealed this decision with the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals in September.
  • In December of 2022, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately granted a preliminary injunction to allow Mr. Singh to attend Recruit Training with his articles of faith.
  • In May of 2023, Mr. Singh shipped out to MCRD San Diego to begin Recruit Training.
  • Today, PFC Singh graduates from Recruit Training.
  • In the weeks ahead, PFC Singh will report to his assigned MOS school to continue his Marine Corps training.

The larger lawsuit against the U.S. government brought by the Sikh Coalition, Winston & Strawn, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and BakerHostetler against the U.S. government remains ongoing. It includes the broader question of the restrictions imposed in the limited accommodation granted to another one of our clients, Captain (Capt) Sukhbir Singh Toor—the terms of which now also apply to PFC Singh. Of note, this limited accommodation still prohibits the maintenance of beards on many deployments; accordingly, our legal teams continue to engage on this case.

Early photos from the USMC recruit training graduation of Private First Class Jaskirat Singh today in San Diego, CA. (Photo Credit: Mark Abramson via the Sikh Coalition)

The following quotes are attributable to various individuals who have worked on the advocacy and legal campaign for PFC Singh and additional Sikh Marine clients:

“PFC Singh’s determination and perseverance has paid off: despite spending far too long in legal limbo as he fought to serve, he has now proven that he can excel in the Marine Corps while maintaining his articles of faith. His achievement is yet another testament to the simple fact that no one should be made to choose between any career and their religious beliefs.” — Giselle Klapper, Deputy Legal Director of the Sikh Coalition

“PFC Singh is the latest in a long line of Sikhs to prove that turbans and beards pose no barrier to honorable and capable military service. Now, with a forward-looking policy change, the Marine Corps can ensure that it continues to welcome more capable recruits, like PFC Singh, from all faith backgrounds.” —Amandeep S. Sidhu, Partner at Winston & Strawn LLP

“The government can’t order Marine recruits or other potential servicemembers to give up their sincerely held religious beliefs as a condition for serving in our military. PFC Singh’s graduation from recruit training is a victory for servicemembers of every faith and an achievement that brings our country more in line with its foundational values.” — Diana Thomson, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

“Any individual who is qualified and determined to serve in our country’s Armed Forces should be able to do so with their articles of faith. Today, we are one step closer to that goal. PFC Singh’s achievement is one more example of how the U.S. military continues to draw its strength from the diverse population that it serves.” —​​Brian W. Song, Partner at BakerHostetler

“As a Sikh man who fought for a first-in-a-generation religious accommodation in the U.S. Army, I have immense admiration for PFC Singh’s achievement today. As our Armed Forces continue to rise to the challenges of the 21st century, it is essential that we recruit and retrain talent from all walks of life—including communities like our own.” —Lieutenant Colonel Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi, Founder of the Sikh American Veterans Alliance

To date, the Sikh Coalition, SAVA, and our partners have helped more than 50 Sikh Americans in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force secure their accommodations; after 12 years of advocacy and legal action—and major policy changes to facilitate religious accommodations in the U.S. Army in 2017 and the U.S. Air Force in 2020—more than 100 Sikh soldiers and airmen serve with their articles of faith and are able to stay safe while doing so, both at home and abroad. 

As a final note, the Sikh Coalition and our partners wish to acknowledge all those Sikh Americans who have served in the USMC without the opportunity to maintain their articles of faith—from our client Capt Toor, who himself secured a historic accommodation from the USMC in June of 2021, to individuals like Corporal Gurpreet Singh, who was killed in action during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011. We continue our work towards systemic policy change in order to ensure that Sikhs in any career field, public or private, are never asked or forced to choose between their career and their religion.

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