Written by Don Byrd
Via Religion Clause, Harpreet Singh Bajwa will become the first ever airman to serve in the U.S. Air Force while wearing a turban, beard, and unshorn hair in accordance with his Sikh religious beliefs. The accommodation was requested by the ACLU.
I was especially moved by the statement Bajwa made, as quoted in the ACLU press release. Accommodations like this aren’t just about grooming and specific religious requirements; they are about belonging. “Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage,” he said, “and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity.” He clearly feels fully American in a way he perhaps never has before, a profound lesson about the importance of religious accommodations where possible. Why marginalize a person of minority religious faith when you can embrace him?
ACLU Senior staff attorney Heather Weaver praised the Air Force’s decision in a press release:
“No one should have to choose between following their faith or serving their country. We’re pleased that the Air Force granted our client’s request, and we hope that all branches of the military come to recognize the importance of religious inclusion and diversity.”
The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) tweeted, “We are thrilled that Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa will be able to maintain his beard and turban while serving this his country.”
In 2017, the U.S. Army updated its rules to encourage more religious accommodations based on requests for wearing beards and long hair, citing “the successful examples of Soldiers currently serving with these accommodations.” For more on this latest Air Force development see coverage in the Air Force Times.