Marines allow Sikh captain to wear turban while in uniform, lawyer says exceptions not enough

The Marine Corps has been slower to grant appearance accommodations along any lines than other military branches

Updated: October 6, 2021 - 10:19am

The Marine Corps is now allowing an officer of the Sikh faith to wear a turban while in uniform. 

In accordance with 1st  Lt. Sukhbir Toor's faith, the military service has granted permission for him to wear the turban and have uncut hair and a beard while in uniform, unless he deploys to a combat zone or wears a dress uniform in a ceremonial unit.

The 26-year-old Marine, who joined the corps in 2017 said he "finally" feels like he doesn't "have to pick which life I want to commit to, my faith or my country. I can be who I am and honor both sides."

However, the changes don't go far enough for Toor, the son of two Indian immigrants, and his legal team.

"It's almost asking someone to compartmentalize their identity," said Toor attorney Giselle Klapper. 

They have appealed the corps' decision, asking for full accommodations. If they are not granted, his attorney says she will sue the in federal court.

Initially, the corps responded harshly to Toor's request to don a turban, emphasizing that uniform appearance among Marines illustrates a cohesiveness that disciplines and binds the individuals who choose to put on the uniform.

Furthermore, officials said the change could erode combat effectiveness, possibly costing lives.

"The Corps cannot experiment with the components of mission accomplishment. Failure on the battlefield is not an acceptable risk," Lt. Gen. David A. Ottignon said. 

Toor waited until he was selected for promotion to captain this spring before asking for an accommodation, telling The New York Times that he did not feel it was right to ask for an exception before he had given anything back to the corps.

Pushed by legal challenges, other branches of the U.S. armed forces have also become more accommodating to religious garb – including hijabs, long hair, beards and turbans. 

Col. Kelly Frushour, a spokesperson at Marine Headquarters, defended the corps' resistance to changing its standard, even as other branches of the military do.

"In order to build squads that will move forward in a combat environment where people are dying, a strong team bond is required. Uniformity is one of the tools the Corps uses to forge that bond. What the Corps is protecting is its ability to win on the battlefield, so that the Constitution can remain the law of the land," he said.