Sikh Airman

Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa has become the first active-duty Indian American Sikh airman to be allowed to wear his Sikh articles of faith while in uniform. (aclu.org photo)

The U.S. Air Force has granted Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa permission to serve with a turban, beard and unshorn hair in compliance with his Sikh religious beliefs, making him the first Indian American Sikh in the Air Force to be granted such a religious accommodation.

Bajwa, who is a crew chief at McChord Air Force Base, Washington, is the first active Airman to be authorized to adhere to Sikh religious grooming and dress principles while serving his country, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund said in a statement.

“I’m overjoyed that the Air Force has granted my religious accommodation,” Bajwa said in the statement. “Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity.”

The first-generation Indian American, who enlisted in the Air Force in 2017, was “not permitted to practice certain Sikh beliefs due to Air Force grooming and dress rules,” said SALDEF.

However, after learning about religious accommodations granted recently to Sikh servicemembers in the U.S. Army as well as a religious accommodation allowing a Muslim Air Force officer to wear hijab, Bajwa, said the statement, contacted the Sikh American Veterans Alliance to determine whether he, too, would be eligible for an accommodation. SAVA connected Bajwa with the American Civil Liberties Union and in response to a letter sent by the ACLU on Bajwa’s behalf, the Air Force approved his accommodation request.

“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.”

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