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Judge Declares Tests on Sikh Army Soldier 'Unfair'

US Army Capt. Simratpal Singh sued the US Army last week over his ability to grow a full beard and wrap his hair in a turban.  The Army attempted to test Singh's ability to properly wear gas masks and operate other necessary physical gear that every service member must be able to wear.

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Singh, a 10-year Army officer and combat engineer, had been wearing the articles under a temporary religious accommodation granted in December. He expected to be granted a permanent accommodation after successfully passing the gas-mask test last month.

US District Judge Beryl A. Howell gave a 32 page opinion last week issuing a restraining order on the testing.  

"Singling out the plaintiff [Singh] for specialized testing due only to his Sikh articles of faith is, in this context, unfair and discriminatory," Howell wrote. "It is this singling out for special scrutiny -- indeed, with the initial precaution of requiring an escort and observers for the plaintiff as he was subjected to the tests--that has a clear tendency to pressure the plaintiff, or other soldiers who may wish to seek a religious accommodation, to conform behavior and forego religious precepts."

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“Justice was done today,” said Eric Baxter, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit public interest law firm that specializes in religious liberty and represents Singh. “Capt. Singh has already passed through a trial by fire in Afghanistan. He did not need to return home only to face a trial by Army bureaucrats.”

Three other soldiers currently serve with a permanent accommodation. These include Maj. Kamaljeet S. Kalsi, Maj. Tejdeep S. Rattan and Cpl. Simranpreet S. Lamba.

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