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Judge in Sikh officer case orders stop to gas mask tests

A district judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the service must stop "any non-standard or discriminatory testing" involving the fit of Capt. Simratpal Singh's helmet and gas mask, a measure Singh's legal team requested after the Army ordered the officer to take part in a three-day test at Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The initial complaint, filed Monday, says such tests "expose Captain Singh to serious consequences of military discipline and the loss of his career for his religious exercise." In addition to a request to end the tests, it also asks the judge to force the Army to accommodate Singh's "religious exercise in maintaining uncut hair and a beard and wearing a turban."

At least three Sikh officers, all in medical positions, have received such accommodations. Singh serves with 249th Engineer Battalion at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and has a temporary waiver that expires at the end of the month.

A Defense Department spokesman would not comment on the case, citing ongoing litigation.

"We have been advocating for the simple, straightforward, equal right to serve for years and held onto the belief that the military would correct this injustice once they realized their mistake," said Harsimran Kaur, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, in a news release announcing the court's ruling. "The military's treatment of Captain Singh, a decorated soldier, makes it clear that they deliberately want to squash diversity and religious freedom in their ranks and that's not something that any court or American should ever tolerate."

In addition to the coalition, Singh is represented by the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a group that specializes in religious-freedom cases, as well as lawyers with the international firm McDermott Will & Emery.

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