In the case of the Sikhs, the Marine Corps has delved into more than just practical considerations. It also says that beards and turbans pose a potential threat to a more abstract understanding of unity.
The 13-week bootcamp is the melting pot where ordinary civilians are turned into Marines, stripping away almost all individual identities — phones, personal clothes, hairstyles, and even the word “me”: Drilling instructors force recruits to refer to themselves only as “these.” recruit.”
“This transformative period lays the groundwork for further service by breaking down individuality and training recruits to think of their team first,” the Marine Corps wrote in February when it opened an accommodation facility for one of its future Sikh recruits, Aekash Singh, refused. “Uniformity is an important part of this process. As a result, limiting exceptions during this transformation process is the least restrictive means of serving the compelling interests of government.”
Mr Singh and two other potential recruits, Jaskirat Singh and Milaap Singh Chahal, declined to be interviewed. In a statement, they said: “We remain ready to live up to the high mental and physical standards of the Marine Corps as we want to serve our country alongside the best. However, we must not waive our right to our religious faith in doing so.”
In the charges filed Monday, their lawyers argued that the Marine Corps routinely allows other recruits into the training camp who do not conform to homogeneous appearance standards. Women are allowed to keep their long hair during training, and the Corps recently relaxed restrictions on tattoos, allowing recruits to have ink that covers everything but their hands, head and neck.
The force said the change in tattoo policy was intended “to balance the individual desires of Marines with the need to maintain the disciplined appearance expected of our profession.” The Sikhs say in their lawsuit that “It is perverse to claim that respecting ‘the individual desires of Marines’ to have full-body tattoos is consistent with accomplishing the mission, but respecting the desires of Marines to be faithful to God is somehow risky.”
Giselle Klapper, a civil rights lawyer with an advocacy group, the Sikh Coalition, who is one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said the coalition spent more than a year trying to negotiate a solution with the leaders of the Marine Corps, but the Corps been inadmissible.