WASHINGTON, DC (May 5, 2017) — International law firm McDermott Will & Emery is the proud recipient of Becket’s 2017 Legal Service Award for outstanding contributions to religious liberty. McDermott was recognized with this honor after dedicating over eight years and thousands of hours advocating with the Sikh Coalition and Becket to end religious discrimination against Sikh Americans who wish to serve in the US military.
Despite a storied history of valiant military service, including in the United States from at least World War I through the Vietnam War, under tightened grooming regulations introduced in 1981, observant Sikhs were almost entirely excluded from US military service for more than thirty years because of their religiously mandated turbans, unshorn hair, and beards. In 2015, McDermott partnered with Becket and the Sikh Coalition to file two lawsuits on behalf of four Sikh soldiers for the right to serve with their articles of faith intact.
McDermott is a leader among law firms in defending civil rights,” said Montserrat Alvarado, executive director of Becket. “Its work to end religious discrimination in the military has been indispensable not only for Sikh Americans, but for all soldiers whose faith sustains them in their service to our country.”
The two lawsuits capped more than six years of tireless effort by McDermott laying the groundwork to show that allowing Sikhs to serve without relinquishing their articles of faith would enhance, not hamper, mission accomplishment. Through McDermott’s initial efforts with the Sikh Coalition, led by partner Amandeep Sidhu, the Army granted three observant Sikhs individual religious accommodations to serve in the Army. The lawsuits sought the same right for all Sikhs and culminated in new regulations presumptively allowing Sikhs to serve without having to forfeit their faith.
“We are honored by this award and what it symbolizes for the Sikh community at large,” said Guy Collier, a partner at McDermott, Will & Emery, who spearheaded the firm’s work on behalf of Sikh Americans. “Our partnership with Becket and the Sikh Coalition symbolizes the importance of religious freedom for all and the good that can be accomplished through attorneys’ pro bono services.”
McDermott partners Guy Collier, Amandeep Sidhu, and Emre Ilter, were members of the pro bono team leading this effort and were on hand to accept the award at Becket’s annual Canterbury Medal Gala on May 4, 2017 at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. The other pro bono team members deserving of recognition for this honor include Stephen Ryan, David Ransom, Daniel Alberti, Kate McDonald, Jennifer Routh, David Roller, and Jiayan Chen.
About McDermott Will & Emery
McDermott Will & Emery is a premier international law firm with a diversified business practice. Numbering more than 1,000 lawyers, we have offices in Boston, Brussels, Chicago, Dallas, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Miami, Milan, Munich, New York, Orange County, Paris, Rome, Seoul, Silicon Valley and Washington, DC. Further extending our reach into Asia, we have a strategic alliance with MWE China Law Offices in Shanghai.
Becket is a nonprofit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100 percent win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. (Read more.)
About The Sikh Coalition
The Sikh Coalition is a community-based organization that works towards the realization of civil and human rights for all people. In particular, we work towards a world where Sikhs may freely practice and enjoy their faith while fostering strong relations with their local community wherever they may be. www.sikhcoalition.org