Air Force allows airman to wear turban, beard for Sikh faith

The U.S. Air Force granted its first religious accommodation to a Sikh active-duty airman to serve with a turban, beard, and unshorn hair.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Sikh American Veterans Alliance (SAVA) represented Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa, Airman 1st Class (A1C), and crew-chief at the McChord Air Force Base near Lakewood, Wash.

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“I’m overjoyed that the Air Force has granted my religious accommodation,” said A1C Bajwa, a first-generation American who enlisted in the Air Force in 2017. “Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity.”

To comply with Air Force rules, Bajwa was previously required to remain clean-shaven and cut his hair. It was the first time the Air Force relaxed its rules to accommodate an airman who wanted to adhere to his faith.

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In a statement, Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, praised the Air Force for the accommodation.

“No one should have to choose between following their faith or serving their country," Weaver said in a statement. "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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Last year, the U.S. Army granted a religious exemption intended for Sikh soldiers to a member of the "Heathen, Norse Pagan faith."