‘Sikh Marine could be allowed to wear turban & beard’

RITU JHA

First Lieutenant Sukhbir Singh Toor, who is planning to file a lawsuit against the Department of the Navy because he is not allowed to wear a turban and beard, considered as articles of faith for Sikhs, might be given the permission for religious accommodation if his mission parameters permit, the Marine Corps Headquarters told indica News.

First Lt Toor has served with distinction in the US Marine Corps since October 2017.

Toor, who currently serves as a fire support officer for 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, applied for a religious accommodation with assistance in March 2021, according to the Sikh Coalition.

The navy’s response to his request for an accommodation, delivered in June, prohibited him from wearing his turban and maintaining his beard in vast swaths of his current military career.

After Toor appealed that decision in June, the navy responded with an updated accommodation in August that recognized his right to maintain his Sikh articles of faith, but imposed restrictions. He would be forced to remove his turban and beard whenever assigned to a ceremonial unit, and to shave his beard when deployed and receiving Hostile Fire Pay or Imminent Danger Pay.

When indica News contacted the Department of Navy, Priscilla Rodriguez spokesperson at Navy Office of Information (CHINFO), said: “Religious liberty is more than the freedom to worship. It includes the freedom to integrate one’s religion into every aspect of one’s life.”

She said she could not comment more since it’s under litigation, but added, “When the policies or procedures of the Department of the Navy conflict with a member’s religious practices, the Department works to support the member’s religious practices to the broadest extent possible within the bounds of military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety.”

Rodriguez referred indica News to Manpower & Reserve Affairs, HQMC, since First Lt Toor works there.

Major Jordan R. Cochran, communication strategy and operations, Manpower & Reserve Affairs, HQMC responded to questions from indica news in an email.

Major Cochran wrote that First Lt Toor submitted a request for religious accommodation to the Deputy Commandant of Manpower and reserve Affairs, which was approved.

Accommodations are unique to the individual Marine,” Major Cochran wrote to indica News. “With that in mind, approvals consider a Marine’s assignment at the time of the request, as well as their potential future assignments. When a religious accommodation request is approved, it follows the Marine throughout the duration of their career, reducing the need for subsequent requests to be made at each new assignment.

However, DC M&RA may review an approved accommodation initiated by a subsequent commander to reflect mission requirements in a new assignment. In such cases, DC M&RA will also consider additional input from the Marine,” he wrote.

Responding on why Toor is not allowed to wear a turban at a few places, Major Cochran said that First Lt Toor is an artillery officer, when in a different billet(job) outside of his primary MOS, 1stLt Toor will be able to exercise his accommodation on multiple occasions over the course of his career when mission parameters of his unit permit.

Since he was recently selected for the rank of captain, he will be screened by the Commandant’s Career Level Education Board, and if selected, will be assigned to a professional military education course. Such assignment would be non-deployable and he would be accommodated.

A normal officer’s career path will include forward deployments, garrison assignments, education assignments, and other non-deployable assignments,” Major Cochran wrote. “Therefore, it is very likely that 1st Lt Toor will be able to exercise his accommodation on multiple occasions over the course of his career when mission parameters of his unit permit.”

From Marine Corps Order 1730.9, factors used to determine if an item of religious apparel interferes with mission accomplishment may include, but are not limited to, whether or not the item:

Poses a health or safety hazard to the Service member wearing the religious apparel and/or others.

Interferes with the wear or proper function of special or protective clothing or equipment (e.g., helmets, flak jackets, flight suits, camouflaged uniforms, protective masks, wet suits, and crash and rescue equipment).

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