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Sikh Soldier Sues DoD, Says Gas Mask Used to Smoke Him Out

Image: Sikh Soldier Sues DoD, Says Gas Mask Used to Smoke Him Out

Capt. Simratpal Singh. (Courtesy The Sikh Coalition)

By    |   Wednesday, 02 Mar 2016 12:26 PM

An American Sikh soldier, U.S. Army Capt. Simratpal Singh, sued the Department of Defense on Monday for religious discrimination, saying he was singled out for helmet and gas mask testing because of his unshorn hair and beard.

The lawsuit seeks permanent accommodation of Signh’s Sikh turban, unshorn hair and unshorn beard, according to the Sikh Coalition, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Singh.

The decorated West Point graduate said he was the only soldier required to complete three days of performance tests, The New York Times reported. According to the Army, long hair and beards can interfere with helmets and gas masks and therefore are banned as a battlefield liability. However, about 100,000 troops have been allowed to maintain beards.

“Captain Singh is more than willing to undergo the same safety testing as any other soldier, but he objects to being treated differently on account of his faith,” the Sikh Coalition said in a statement.

Along with the Sikh Coalition, Singh is represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery, according to NBC News.

The soldier has served in the U.S. military for 10 years with short hair and shorn beard, NBC said. In December he received temporary approval to serve with long hair and a beard.

"Captain Singh upholds the finest traditions of our military," Eric Baxter, senior counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told NBC News. "He's a West Point graduate, Army Ranger, Bronze Star Recipient. He knows he is subject to the same standards as everyone else. Just this morning, he underwent a previously scheduled gas mask test with his unit and passed without a hitch. He shouldn't be subjected to additional, discriminatory testing because of his faith. The Army is treating him as if he were a lab rat."

A 2014 rule allows soldiers to request religious accommodations, according to The Hill. The additional helmet and gas mask testing was scheduled as part of that process.

“Before making a final decision on CPT Singh’s request for accommodation, I request additional information concerning the compatibility of his turban, hair and beard with U.S. Army protective equipment,” Assistant Secretary of the Army Debra Wada wrote in the memo to the commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, according to The Hill. “Safety is one of the many factors of military necessity that I will consider in making my decision.”

Twitter users had mixed reactions.

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An American Sikh soldier, U.S. Army Capt. Simratpal Singh, sued the Department of Defense on Monday for religious discrimination, saying he was singled out for helmet and gas mask testing because of his unshorn hair and beard.
sikh, soldier, sues, dod, gas mask
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2016-26-02
Wednesday, 02 Mar 2016 12:26 PM
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