“It got pretty routine and there were very few problems. This is what makes the response of the Marines in this case so surprising, ”said Giselle Klapper, a civil rights lawyer with a rights group, the Sikh Coalition, which has helped Sikh troops demand exceptions.
But the Marine Corps doesn’t like to retreat and has never given much weight to what other branches of the military do. It is the smallest branch and considers itself the most elitist. It often resisted change for years after the rest of the army left. The Corps was the last branch to allow black men to enlist, and it waived a 2015 mandate to allow women to serve in combat.
The Corps’ argument, time and time again, has been that the change could hamper its ability to fight.
“In order to build squads that will move forward in a combat environment where people are dying, a strong team bond is needed,” said Col. Kelly Frushour, spokesperson for Navy Headquarters, in written responses to New York Times questions about The Lieutenant Toor Affair. “Uniformity is one of the tools the Corps uses to forge that bond. What the Corps protects is its ability to win on the battlefield, so that the Constitution can remain the law of the land. “
Requests for accommodation have been rare in the Corps. Among approximately 180,000 active-duty Marines, there have been only 33 requests in recent years for exceptions to uniform regulations on religious grounds, including requests for long hair, beards, or physical training clothing. more modest. About two-thirds of the requests were approved, but prior to Lt. Toor, no one had been allowed to wear a visible religious beard or head covering.
Lieutenant Toor grew up in Washington and Ohio, the son of Indian immigrants. Her father wore a beard, turban, and other symbols of Sikh religious devotion, including a simple steel bracelet and small blade meant to remind Sikh worshipers that they are meant to act as righteous defenders – and if necessary armed – innocent people. and oppressed.
Growing up in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Lieutenant Toor knew that many Americans mistakenly associated Sikhs with dangerous religious fanatics. He hoped his military service would help change that.