Reps. Maloney, Meeks hail the Army’s accommodation of recruit’s articles of faith

Sep 8, 2010
Press Release
WASHINGTON, DC – Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) applauded the Army’s accommodation of Simran Preet Singh Lamba, a Sikh recruit who had requested permission to keep the articles of his Sikh faith while in service to the United States.

“This decision by the Army is gratifying,” Rep. Maloney said. “No one should have to choose between his religion and service to our country.  At a time like this we can ill-afford to turn away skilled, accomplished, and patriotic young men and women like Mr. Lamba who wish to serve the United States.”
“Sikhs have served in our nation’s military honorably, with valor and distinction, for almost a century,” Rep. Meeks said.  “It is wrong to exclude those individuals who are ready, willing, and able to serve on the basis of their religious beliefs.  I, therefore, strongly applaud the Army’s decision to grant Mr. Lamba’s appeal so that he may serve the United States safely and honorably in conformity with his religious beliefs.”
Recruited by the Army in 2009 through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program for his language skills in Punjabi and Hindi, Mr. Lamba was initially advised by an Army recruiter that his Sikh articles of faith would likely be accommodated. Subsequently, in March 2010, his formal request for a religious accommodation was denied. He appealed the decision and that appeal was accepted. Maloney and Meeks had written to Defense Secretary Gates in April supporting Lamba’s accommodation.

The full text of the letter is below.

# # #

April 1, 2010

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Room 3E880
Washington, DC 20301-1000

The Honorable John McHugh
Secretary of the Army
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1400

Dear Secretary Gates and Secretary McHugh:

We write to you on behalf of a constituent and resident of the State of New York, Simran Preet Singh Lamba. Mr. Lamba was recruited by the U.S. Army in December 2009 under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MA VNI) program, based on his language skills in Punjabi and Hindi. He is scheduled to report for basic training on March 30, 2010. Mr. Lamba advised his Army recruiter that his Sikh articles of faith include wearing a Sikh turban and maintaining uncut hair, including a beard.

He was nonetheless recruited and instructed to submit a request for religious accommodation, which was denied on March 15, 2010. Mr. Lamba's appeal of that denial is now pending at the Department of the Army. Joined together by our common interest in supporting the Sikh-American community in New York and New Jersey, we ask that Mr. Lamba be allowed to serve his adopted country as a U.S. Army soldier without abandoning his religious beliefs.

As you may recall, we made a similar request for another Sikh constituent, Captain Tejdeep S. Rattan, in June 2009. The Army granted Captain Rattan's request for accommodation in December 2009, and he recently graduated from the Officer Basic Leader Course (OBLC) at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. We greatly appreciate the Army's decision to grant Captain Rattan's request for accommodation as well as its accommodation of a similar request by Captain Kamaljeet S. Kalsi -and urge you to take the same action with regard to Mr. Lamba's request.

The facts in Mr. Lamba' s case are not in dispute:
•    He was recruited by the Army in 2009 through the MAVNI program for his language skills in Punjabi and Hindi.
•    He proactively asked his Army recruiters if his Sikh articles of faith (including wearing a turban and maintaining unshorn hair and beard) would be accommodated, and was told by at least one senior officer familiar with the accommodations of Captains Rattan and Kalsi that the Army would likely provide him with an accommodation.
•    He is scheduled to report for basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia on April 5, 2010. •    He filed the necessary request for accommodation with Major General Donald M. Campbell, Jr., Commanding General, U.S. Anny Recruiting Command. •    His request for accommodation was denied by Gen. Campbell on March 15,2010 and the matter was referred to the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Anny, G-1.

It is our understanding that Mr. Lamba was specifically recruited because he possesses cultural and linguistic skills considered to be vital to our national interest. His Sikh religious beliefs and identity are intricately tied to these valuable skills, informing both his Punjabi language skills and his cultural competency with the customs and mores of South Asia. Furthermore, it is our understanding that Mr. Lamba has a master's degree in industrial engineering with specialization in supply chain management and intends to apply for Officer Candidate School as soon as he obtains U.S. citizenship and is eligible to do so.

With our servicemen and women fighting wars in two countries and our nation engaged across the globe in furtherance of our national security interests, we know that some might be tempted to regard this request by Mr. Lamba as solely a personnel matter. It is not-and we trust that you agree. In fact, Mr. Lamba's request for an accommodation of his Sikh articles of faith implicates one of the most fundamental values -freedom of religion -upon which our nation was founded and which makes the United States a beacon of hope and liberty throughout the world.

As you know, Sikh-Americans have served in our nation's armed forces with honor and distinction in every major armed conflict since World War I, and Sikhs currently serve in the militaries of Great Britain, Canada and India, and as United Nations Peacekeepers often working closely with American troops. The Anny's recent decisions to grant the requests for religious accommodation filed by Captains Rattan and Kalsi are indicative of the fact that Mr. Lamba's Sikh articles of faith can be balanced with military necessity, unit cohesion, and uniformity.

Throughout our history, our nation's military has succeeded in training individuals from diverse backgrounds and communities to achieve one, unifying goal: to protect and defend our nation. Providing Mr. Lamba with a reasonable accommodation consistent with the previous accommodations provided to Captains Rattan and Kalsi would simply be an additional chapter in this long history of military success.

Thank you in advance for your consideration in this matter.



Members of Congress

Background.  Maloney previously led a number of House and Senate colleagues in sending letters to Secretary Gates requesting that the accommodations be made for other Sikh-Americans. Read those letters to Secretary Gates at folder/HouseLettertoSecretaryGates8-18-09(Final).pdf  and folder/061709GatesSecondLtRattanLETTER (2).pdf  (PDF)