Sikh Airman Wins Right to Serve in Turban

“I’m overjoyed that the Air Force has granted my religious accommodation,” said Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, the first airman to be granted the right to serve in the U.S. Air Force in a turban.

Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa
Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa was granted a historic religious accommodation by the Air Force allowing him to wear a turban, beard, and unshorn hair in keeping with his Sikh faith. (ACLU)

Air Force rules, requiring members to be clean-shaven and to cut their hair, were relaxed for the first time to accommodate Bajwa’s religious beliefs.

“I’m overjoyed that the Air Force has granted my religious accommodation.”

Bajwa, who enlisted in the Air Force in 2017, was not permitted to practice certain Sikh beliefs due to Air Force grooming and dress rules. On learning about religious accommodations granted recently to Sikh servicemembers in the U.S. Army, Bajwa contacted members of the Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA), who introduced him to the American Civil Liberties Union, which presented his case to the Air Force.

“No one should have to choose between following their faith or serving their country,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU. “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.”

Lieutenant Colonel Kamal Kalsi Singh, president of SAVA, is proud of Bajwa’s accomplishment. “Sikhs have a long history of serving in militaries around the world, and I’m confident that Airman 1st Class Bajwa will represent that tradition honorably,” he said.

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