October 27, 2009


The law firm of McDermott Will & Emery has bragged in a press release that it, in its own words, “scored a pro bono win last week by convincing the army to allow a religious Sikh to serve while wearing full religious garb.”

Now, there’s obviously a worthy dedication of lawyer “pro bono” time — suing the Army for special treatment for a Sikh dentist, while American troops of the Army and other branches of the military are in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, all subject to uniform (as in uniformly applied) military regulations and command authority, some of them dying.

But McDermott Will & Emery’s aggrieved Sikh client, won’t have to worry about that: He’s a dentist, after all.

As the lawyers of McDermott Will & Emery pat themselves on the back for their heroic bravery in suing the Army in a time of war, their “pro bono win” about which they brag, taxpayers perhaps should breathe a sigh of relief that McDermott Will & Emery will not be making motions for attorney fees to be ordered by a judge and paid by taxpayers, since the firm makes a point of bragging that it acted “pro bono.” Good. What a relief that they won’t be sticking it to taxpayers. Or will they?

While there are many ironies presented by this case, I, as one veteran, am not going to make an issue of this at this time. No, not at this time.

Indeed, I think it is going to open a Pandora’s Box of perhaps unintended consequences. There will be plenty of time. And, as in the Perils of Pauline, we can all wonder with baited breath just what limits, if any, there are to the dedication of McDermott Will & Emery to provide representation — pro bono — in claims raising issues similar to that of their aggrieved Sikh military dentist plaintiff.

For instance, will all Muslims in military service now demand to wear full beards as the Koran specifies and as the Sikhs will be allowed to do? Will McDermott Will and Emery march on like lawyer crusaders (no offense to Osama Bin Laden for use of the term) to represent such Muslims, who seek equality with Sikhs?

One of the the reasons for clean shaven troops in combat areas is that it is very difficult to get a seal on a gas mask if there is a beard in the way. It will be interesting to see what claims will be raised, perhaps by McDermott Will & Emery, should full-bearded Sikhs, Shiites, or Sunni’s be ordered to a combat area in which Muslim enemies of America or NATO or the Coalition decide to use gas, as Sadaam Hussein did and as Iran’s leaders appear to be capable of doing?

Or, if female Muslims in service, in light of McDermott Will & Emery’s pro bono victory, demand to wear Muslim female attire as prescribed by the fundamentalist Ayatollahs, including head scarves covering all but their eyes, maybe toe-to-top-of-the head “Taliban Wear?” Will the crusaders of McDermott Will & Emery charge forth to do battle — in the safety of the courts, of course–by lawsuits against the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force of Coast Guard, in this time of war?

If homosexual Muslim males, transvestites, or transexuals in the military, demand to wear the same Taliban Wear as female Muslims, can they count on McDermott Will & Emery to stand bravely behind them?

There are but a few of the ironies presented and the the potential legalistic issues that may arise from McDermott Will & Emery’s “pro bono win,” as they firm has so publicly bragged.

For further instance: Military standards used to require all the recruits in bootcamp, and, follow-up MOS training (Military Occupational Specialty), to be clean shaven. The issue now: Does deferring to the religious customs of Sikhs, Muslims, African Shaminism, etc., constitute discrimination?

Does this McDermott Will & Emery “win” for its aggrieved Sikh dentist mean that religious Christians will now be able to openly display Christian insignia, since, McDermott Will & Emery brag, “…the army [will] allow a religious Sikh to serve while wearing full religious garb.”

The military services proscribe troops from carrying personal weapons. Think of the mayhem that might arise from boot camp on when soldiers get into personal hassles, if they are carrying, say, knives. But, Sikhs are required, as a religious obligation, to carry a knife at all times. Will other soldiers now be able to wear knives as part of their uniforms? Or just Sikhs?

The media has reported problems arising in the military by the presence of rival “gang members” who for one reason or another have managed to get accepted in the military services, and who have engaged in inter-gang violence. Will they be allowed to wear knives like the Sikh?

Many of those gang members in the military are African Americans, Latinos — is it race, color, ethnic, or religious discrimination to allow McDermott Will & Emery’s Sikh to openly wear of knife, but not Blacks,Latinos, and others?

The military punished a Chaplain who prayed in the name of Jesus. What now?

Will Rastafarians who smoke marijuana as a religious rite be be able to toke up, stay stoned and pass the munchies while others are stuck with near beer at the PX, under the McDermott Will & Emery precedent established in this Sikh dentist case?

Or, will American Indians from sects which use Peyote as part of religious rites be allowed to fly high not withstanding military regulations banning all dope?

Oh, what wonders to behold may arise from the Pandora’s Box opened by the lawyer crusaders of McDermotte Will & Emery.

Indeed, the dedication of McDermott Will & Emery to defending claimants of discrimination, pro bono, may be sorely tested as a result of its “pro bono win” for their aggrieved Sikh dentist. The precedent may give many others in the military the idea that they, too, have a right to special treatment, or a feeling they are discriminated against because the Sikh dentist who is unlikely ever to be in harm’s way as Muslim’s kill Americans for Allah, has the ability to do what those who are placed in harm’s way, and may be killed by the Muslim enemy, may not do.

Another great irony: While the military decides that Sikhs shall have special privileges, the ACLU lawyers .sue crosses at veterans memorials because some persons are “offended” at the sight of a religious symbol on federal property, which is all that is claimed by ACLU’s plaintiff Frank Buono of Oregon in the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Case (Buono vs. Salazar) which is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Mojave Desert Veterans Memorials case pits the ACLU on one side (attempting to destroy the veterans memorial), and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, and other veterans service organizations representing millions of veterans of every race, color, or creed on the other side, attempting to save a veterans memorial honoring WWI veterans which has existed in the remote desert since 1934, without a single complaint in those 75 years except one –the ACLU’s for its “offended” Plaintiff, retired federal bureaucrat Frank Buono, who retired to a home in Oregon, and has to drive over 1,000 miles to be offended by that cross.

Where does McDermott Will & Emery stand in relation to this Supreme

Court case which will have nationwide impact? Has the firm devoted “pro

bono attorney time in support of veterans? Alas, McDermott Will & Emery’s gallant courtroom warriors found no reason to devote their pro bono time to the wartime veterans who are fighting the ACLU to preserve the right of 300-million Americans to choose how they will honor their war dead and other veterans, against the ACLU’s desire to have a veto power over such decisions by representing single individuals who sue to destroy those memorials because they are “offended” by the sight of a symbol of a religious aspect, almost always the Christian Cross. Rather, McDermott Will & Every brag of their “pro bono win” for the Sikh dentist while soldiers die in war.

While I have no idea how others may feel, I will sleep better at night knowing that McDermott Emery & Will has achieved the “pro bono win” of which they brag for an aggrieved Sikh dentist who has chosen to practice dentistry in the military, and then decided he should act to change the standards of the military to accommodate him, in a time of war, when others are in harms way and he is not.

I will sleep in peace and confidence now, knowing that it will be the courageous lawyers of McDermott Emery & Will, and not the generals, officers, and non-comos of the Army who will determine what standards of attire, grooming, and conduct, including carrying personal knives at all time, should be followed in order to assist in achieving maximum unit fighting ability and building a bond of camaraderie among soldiers so strong they may lay down their lives for one another, as they combat a fanatic Muslim enemy that has sworn to transform American into an Islamist republic under Sharia law, or slay us all as infidels if we refuse to submit.

Yes, how significant it is for the lawyers of McDermott Will & Emery to brag of a “pro bono win” in an attack on Army standards, for a Sikh dentist, who will never be in harms way unless he drills into his own hand, when the nation is at war, and soldiers, are fighting, and sacrificing their lives, for us. McDermott Emery & Will has certainly ennobled itself and the legal profession, and exposed lawyer priorities in a time of war for what they are.

[Rees Lloyd, is a longtime California civil rights attorney, and a veterans activist, who now resides in Portland.]

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