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Several US lawmakers, who attended the annual Sikh American Heritage Dinner on Capitol Hill, organized by the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, pledged to support the Sikh community's efforts to serve in the US armed forces without compromising their religious principles, and promised to bring this issue on the House floor to press the Pentagon [Images] be more flexible in its rules and admit Sikhs in the US military.
Speaking to nearly 250 Sikhs from across the country who attended the dinner, Congressman Ed Royce, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said, "I will work to make sure that Sikhs are admitted to serve in the US armed forces without any restrictions."
Congressman Jim McDermott, the Democratic co-chair of the India Caucus, also said he would work toward bringing this issue on the House floor to press the Pentagon to change this rule and said, "Medical professionals in the military were told they had to shave their head and take off their turban, and I thought to myself, who in the world is in charge over in the Pentagon that made that decision? I know there have been discussions going on about the carrying of the symbolic dagger (kirpan) and all of the things that are part of Sikhism, but to say these people can't operate in the US military is just plain silly," he argued.
McDermott acknowledged that "I know there have been some difficult times and I am aware of the history of the Sikh community, but the fact is that it's important that we be allowed to be who we are, worship the way we want to, but not to have to choose, or be picked on or excluded on any basis. This country needs to be the place where everyone has the right to participate to the fullest extent possible in their life."
Last month,two Sikh American military recruits, both medical professionals already in the US Army, who had been denied the right to report for active duty in July unless they remove their turbans and cut their unshorn hair and beards, called on the Pentagon to allow them to serve their country without having to compromise their religious principles and remove their turbans and shave their beards.