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The story of a warrior earns recognition

SALT LAKE CITY - Lt. Col. Kamal Singh Kalsi served on active duty as an emergency medicine specialist in Afghanistan for seven months, and was also a member of the active reserves, among other assignments. He was involved in an eight-year military struggle, but it didn't have anything to do with the enemy.

The battle was for Army directive 2017-03.

"This directive revises Army uniform and grooming policy to provide wear and appearance standards for the most commonly requested religious accommodations and revises the approval authority for future requests for religious accommodation consistent with these standards," states the directive, approved by the military a year ago thanks to the work of Kalsi and others.

In short, it meant those who sought permission to wear a turban and a beard in observance of the Sikh faith were no longer required to go through the monthslong process seeking approval through the Pentagon. And those of other faiths also now had a streamlined process if they sought military accommodations to observe their faith.

"I was very emotional. I'm still sort of processing what it all meant," Kalsi told Deseret News reporter Kelsey Dallas last year, as she detailed the struggle and the win for religious accommodation in her story headlined: "The long road to a religious liberty victory for Sikhs in the U.S. Army."

The telling recounted the creation of The Sikh Coalition and its efforts to win support from members of Congress, military officials and religious liberty advocates. It went through the extensive court history and noted the Sikhs' presence in the Indian and British armies.

For her efforts chronicling this struggle, Dallas was named this week winner of a Wilbur Award, to be presented in Atlanta by the Religion Communicators Council in April. The council is an interfaith association of religion communicators and has honored journalists and others since 1949. The award is named for Marvin C. Wilbur, a respected leader of the group.

Head shot of Deseret News reporter, Kelsey Dallas. Photo taken on Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.
Deseret News reporter Kelsey Dallas
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Last year's winner in the newspaper category was Peter Smith, religion editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for his work "Silent Sanctuaries," detailing "the sad state of Pittsburgh's closed houses of worship."

Kelsey has become expert in following court cases that impact cultural change and religious liberty, pointing out consequences (and the unintended consequences) of each decision, and providing explanatory journalism on difficult topics.

"Like any good journalist, Kelsey is curious and eager to learn everything about any assignment she tackles," said Matt Brown, Kelsey's editor on the In Depth team at the Deseret News. "What really sets her apart, however, is her own faith, her divinity degree from Yale, and her desire to get a deeper understanding of how faith motivates individuals as they make contributions to better themselves and society."

Last week her story headlined "How children get caught in the clash over LGBT and religious rights" revealed how children in need of foster homes and adoption are being impacted by what some would call the culture wars.

She wrote: "The opioid epidemic, funding challenges and a tangle of regulations all complicate efforts to connect children with interested families, according to child welfare experts. Increasingly, so do clashes between faith-based adoption agencies and LGBT couples."

Stories like this, and like the one Kelsey will be honored for next month, help readers better understand the world they live in so they can make important decisions for their families and communities. In that way, the stories have impact beyond the telling of the individual case being reported.

States the description of the Wilbur awards: "We want to recognize the work of individuals and agencies as they communicate about religious issues, values and themes, with professionalism, fairness and honesty."

Lt. Col. Kamal Singh Kalsi himself perhaps deserves the last word. Following his eight year struggle, he said:

"We saw this fight as critical and necessary, not just for our community, but for everyone who values religious freedom."