This officer trainee just expanded religious freedom

Iknoor Singh appealed to the law to practice his religion while serving his country. (American Civil Liberties Union)

Iknoor Singh, pictured above, wanted to join the U.S. Army’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). The army told Singh he first would need to shave, and not wear his turban while on duty.

Singh adheres to Sikhism, a religion that stipulates male followers keep their beard and hair uncut and wear a turban.

A U.S. District Court judge sided with Singh. “I didn’t believe it at first when I heard about the decision,” Singh told the Associated Press.

Under U.S. federal law, the government may not “substantially burden” a person’s exercise of religion except to further a “compelling government interest.” Even then, the law allows only the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Singh’s turban and beard would not impact his ability to serve. She noted that the Army has already granted many medical exemptions from its facial hair rules.

Singh said he’s interested in public service and wants to work in military intelligence after the officer training program.

“Becoming an officer is not an easy thing,” he said. “You have to be proficient in many areas.”