Sikhs have served in the U.S. military for decades. Over that time, the military has allowed more significant variances in allowing Sikh personnel to wear turbans, long hair and beards as is the religious custom. The Marines were the lone holdout, telling three Sikhs going through basic training that they could only serve if they cut their hair.
Sikhs have a long tradition of serving in military organizations around the world while keeping their articles of faith in place. The District of Columbia’s federal appeals court ruled to allow the men to serve while exercising their religious freedom. According to NPR, 27 retired generals and more than 100 members of Congress also supported the three men’s cause, which took two years to go through the courts.
The men successfully argued that the time for change had come, and they can go ahead with basic training, but the corps could appeal to the courts.
“The Pentagon’s existing policies are based on stereotypes about what Americans should look like,” the group wrote on its website. “Instead of perpetuating stereotypes, policymakers should focus on whether candidates for military service can competently perform their job functions and promote teamwork and camaraderie.
Ruling reflects a prevailing reality
General David Berger made a statement in 2021 about the Marines’ need to update its image and better reflect the culture and people they serve. In his Manpower Model, Berger wants to shake things about by emphasizing education, training and technical skill over traditional qualities like youth, fitness and discipline.
Despite its top general acknowledging the new reality, Marine Corps representatives nonetheless claimed that the involving beards and hair rules were about national security because they affected troop uniformity. The Marines already allowed medically required beards and a variety of haircuts for women personnel. The corps also had previously relaxed rules about tattoos that showed.
The Marines have always embraced its traditions, but changing times have left the corps struggling to retain personnel, with 75% leaving after their four-year hitch. This retention rate is the lowest in the military. This ruling may help change that number for the better.