Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa is the first active-duty airman permitted to dress according to the Sikh religion. Photo courtesy of ACLU/Website
June 7 (UPI) -- The United States Air Force has granted a religious accommodation to a Sikh airman, making him the first active airman to wear a turban while on duty, an American Sikh organization said.
The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund said Thursday that Airman 1st Class Harpreetinder Singh Bajwa was granted the religious accommodation to wear a turban, beard and unshorn hair in compliance with his religion.
"I'm overjoyed that the Air Force has granted my religious accommodation," Bajwa said. "Today, I feel that my country has embraced my Sikh heritage, and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity."
Bajwa, a first-generation American, joined the Air Force in 2017 but was not permitted to dress according to his religion due to Air Force grooming and dress rules.
However, after learning of accommodations being granted to Sikh servicemen in the Army and that Air Force JAG Corps officer Cpt. Maysaa Ouza was permitted to wear a hijab, he gained legal representation with the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU had also represented Ouza, who gained the accommodation in May 2018.
The ACLU then sent a letter to the Air Force on Bajwa's behalf and his accommodation was approved.
"No one should have to choose between following their faith or serving their country," ACLU senior staff attorney Heather L. Weaver said. "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."
While this is a victory, the ACLU said it shouldn't take an army of lawyers and more than four months to earn such a request.
"To make good on its commitment to religious diversity, the Department of Defense should make the religious accommodation process easier and faster," the organization said in a press release.