The Air Force granted a religious accommodation to allow a Sikh man to become the first active-duty airman to wear a turban, beard and unshorn hair.
The man — Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, Airman 1st Class (A1C), and crew-chief at the McChord Air Force Base near Lakewood, Wash. — is a first-generation American and enlisted in the Air Force in 2017, according to a statement provided to Yahoo Lifestyle by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU and Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA) sent in a letter to request the accommodation on Bajwa’s behalf.
In accordance with Air Force rules, Bajwa was previously required to cut his hair and remain clean-shaven. “The turban and beard are an important part of a Sikh’s identity,” Kamal Kalsi, founder of SAVA explained to the Washington Post. “The turban is a crown. It represents our connection to social justice, our connection to our faith. These articles of faith for us remind us to do good in the world and to be good citizens in the world.”
“I’m overjoyed that the Air Force has granted my religious accommodation,” said Bajwa. “Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity.”
According to the statement provided to Yahoo Lifestyle by the ACLU, A1C Bajwa was encouraged to make the request by other service-members who had received religious accommodations in the past.
In 2018, the Air Force granted an accommodation to Capt. Maysaa Ouza, who was allowed to wear a hijab, in accordance with her Muslim faith. In 2016, another Sikh man was granted a longterm accommodation from the U.S. Army to serve his country with a beard, turban and long hair after suing for discrimination on the basis of religion.
"The Air Force can confirm that Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa was granted a religious accommodation in accordance with Air Force policy," Maj. Nicholas Mercurio, an Air Force spokesman, told ABC News. "The Air Force places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all."
While Bajwa was granted an accommodation, ACLU representatives argue that all parts of the military — not just the Air Force — need to follow suit.
Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, said in a statement that “no one should have to choose between following their faith or serving their country,” and that “we hope that all branches of the military come to recognize the importance of religious inclusion and diversity.”
U.S. Air Force representatives did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.
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