Freedom of Religion

A. Barton Hinkle: The Case for Religious Liberty

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Credit: Mr T in DC / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

The world owes Joseph Heller thanks for giving it the term Catch-22, a fictional paradox from his novel of the same name. It owes the Army rather less thanks for giving us a real-world example. In Heller's tale, Catch-22 refers to a set of rules that exempt those who are insane from flying combat missions. But since any sane person wishes to avoid combat, those who feign insanity to get out of it cannot be insane: "If (Orr) flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to."

The real-world equivalent of Orr is Iknoor Singh, a student at Hofstra and a devoted Sikh. In addition to English he speaks Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi, and wanted to join the school's ROTC program, in hopes of one day becoming a military intelligence officer.

Enter the Army's regulations on grooming, which prohibit Singh's long hair, beard, and turban. Rather than ditch those emblems of his faith so he could join, Singh sought an exemption to the rules. He was refused. So he sued, claiming his rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act had been violated. A few days ago, reports A. Barton Hinkle, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled in his favor.