February 6, 2013 – The Sikh Coalition welcomes the decision of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to accommodate Corrections Officer Ikhbinder S. Bassin’s Sikh articles of faith, including his unshorn beard and kara. Officer Bassin’s struggle to maintain his job required an aggressive and multi-layered approach by the Sikh Coalition.
Officer Bassin has worked at ADC for almost a decade while maintaining an unshorn beard and wearing a kara. However, in late December 2012, ADC suddenly found him out of compliance with department regulations, which do not permit corrections officers to have beards longer than a ½ inch or to wear bracelets (except medical bracelets). Officer Bassin was told he would be fired if he did not trim his beard or remove his kara within ten days.
Sikh Coalition Fights For Officer Bassin
Officer Bassin contacted the Sikh Coalition, who requested that ADC grant him a religious accommodation. ADC, however, denied the request and once again threatened to fire Officer Bassin if he did not comply by January 31, 2013.
With a tight deadline, the Sikh Coalition aggressively fought for Officer Bassin’s rights by taking the following actions:
- Sikh Coalition attorneys sent detailed legal letters to ADC threatening a lawsuit.
- The Sikh Coalition assisted Officer Bassin in filing a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- The Sikh Coalition sought intervention from the U.S. Department of Justice.
- The Sikh Coalition engaged the office of an Arizona State Senator.
- The Sikh Coalition consulted with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
- The Sikh Coalition successfully solicited support letters from the Anti-Defamation League, the Arizona Interfaith Movement, and local Sikh leaders and elected officials.
- The Sikh Coalition issued a press release.
Victory – Accommodation Granted
On January 31, 2013, under extreme pressure, the ADC agreed to let Officer Bassin keep his job with a full religious accommodation to maintain an unshorn beard and a kara at all times.
Prominent Arizona community leader, Dr. Jaswant S. Sachdev, notes, “With Akaal Purukh’s blessings and with hard work on the part of all involved, especially the highly organized and trained team of smart attorneys at the Sikh Coalition, wisdom has ultimately prevailed.”
Justine K. Fanarof of the ADL’s Jean and Jerry Moore Southwest Civil Rights Counsel states, "The [Sikh C]oalition’s efforts to ensure Mr. Bassin’s ongoing employment within the Department demonstrate the importance of local and national engagement in regional civil rights issues."
Staff attorney at the Coalition, Gurjot Kaur, affirms, "By accommodating Officer Bassin, the ADC has made a tremendous leap toward equal opportunity for all and upheld religious freedom and diversity in the workplace. Not only is ADC's decision legally sound, but it is a welcoming gesture to the Arizona Sikh community, still vulnerable years after the tragic hate crime murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi."
The Sikh Coalition would like to thank Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, State Senator Barbara McGuire, the Anti-Defamation League, the Arizona Interfaith Movement, and local Sikh leaders Rana S. Sodhi, Dr. Jaswant S. Sachdev, and Guru Roop Kaur Khalsa for their support.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges all Sikhs to practice their faith fearlessly.