An active-duty Marine artillery officer and three prospective recruits, all of whom are Sikhs, are taking the U.S. military to court over rules prohibiting them from having a beard and long hair or wearing religious items.
In the lawsuit, Capt. Sukhbir Singh Toor and the three others contend the Marine Corps is unfairly and unevenly applying grooming standards — relaxed or eliminated in some cases for other religious, ethnic or racial groups while serving in combat zones or attending boot camp.
The result violates the men’s religious, speech, due process and equal protection constitutional rights, the lawsuit states. It also forces them to abandon the tenets of their faith if they want to succeed in their military careers or serve their country, it states.
The lawsuit follows more than a year of efforts to engage with the Marine Corps, said Giselle Klapper, a senior staff attorney with the New York City-based Sikh Coalition, one of the groups representing the men.
“Treating a Sikh’s beard, a core tenet of the faith, as merely optional is unacceptable,” Klapper said in a statement Tuesday. “It is time for the USMC to recognize what the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and armed forces around the world already know: Articles of faith do not preclude Sikhs from capable military service.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, also names Marine commandant Gen. David H. Berger, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, among other officials, court records show.
It asks that the men be allowed to keep their beards and long hair and be able to wear religious attire, such as a turban or ceremonial knife, at all posts without penalty or negative influence on their careers or the ability to join the Marines.
The Marine Corps typically says little about pending litigation and wasn’t immediately available for comment.
In court documents, the Marine Corps has maintained that the grooming standards, including shaven faces and short hair on men, are needed to establish discipline and order across the ranks to promote esprit de corps.
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