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Sikh Army Capt. Denied Permanent Accommodation

(CN) - A Sikh member of the U.S. Army is not entitled to an unlimited accommodation to wear a beard, turban and unshorn hair, a federal judge ruled.

Army Ranger Capt. Simratpal Singh asked the court for a preliminary injunction in his lawsuit against U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

Singh requested a permanent religious accommodation that would allow him to meet the requirements of the Sikh faith while he served in the Army.

Earlier this year, the Washington, D.C. Federal Court ruled in Singh's favor, finding that he should not be subjected to special tests of his helmet and gas mask while wearing the beard and turban.

After that decision, Assistant Secretary of the Army Debra Wada granted Singh's request for an exception to the Army's standards, subject to some limitations.

Singh sought a permanent exception that would not be conditioned on his safety equipment or the cohesion of his military unit.

After agreeing with Singh that his case was not mooted by Wada's accommodations, U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl Howell denied his request.

"A preliminary injunction is nonetheless not warranted under these circumstances, where the plaintiff has not shown that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm without preliminary relief," she wrote in a May 6 ruling.

Howell disagreed with Singh's argument that the lack of a permanent accommodation would subject him to an "apparent cloud of suspicion" and treat him and other Sikhs as "second-class citizens."

"None of these harms that the plaintiff claims he will suffer from the limitations of his religious accommodation are both certain and great, actual and not theoretical, beyond remediation, and 'of such imminence that there is a clear and present need for equitable relief to prevent irreparable harm," Howell wrote.

The judge did call Wada's call for quarterly assessments of the accommodation's effects "troubling," and she noted that four other Sikhs "have served in the Army with exceptional distinction and their grooming and appearance accommodations have had only a positive effect, if any, on unit cohesion and morale, good order and discipline, health and safety, and individual unit readiness."

However, Howell stated that Singh is only being exposed to "potential" discrimination.

"Plaintiff has failed to show that the quarterly-assessment requirement is likely to cause him irreparable harm during the remainder of this litigation," the judge wrote. (Emphasis in original.)

Howell also denied Singh's request to consolidate his case with Singh v. McConville, which includes three other Sikh plaintiffs serving in the Army.

The judge noted that Singh is a West Point graduate and officer assigned to a "worldwide deployable unit," while the three plaintiffs in McConville were all scheduled to begin basic training this month.

"If the cases are consolidated, the factual differences may cause confusion," Howell wrote.

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