Starting the New Year With a (Civil Rights) Bang

Texas Board of Education members consider testimony in part on whether information on Sikhs should be included in the state curriculum.

(Austin, TX; Salem, OR; Washington, DC) January 15, 2010 - The Sikh Coalition kicked off the first 2 weeks of 2010 with a flurry of activity to protect Sikh rights across the United States.

In Texas, Sikhs spoke at a public hearing to demand that information on Sikhs be included in the mandatory public school curriculum. In Oregon, Sikhs at a legislative hearing called for the repeal of a state law disallowing Sikh public school teachers from wearing their turbans. In Washington, DC, the Coalition spoke on Capitol Hill to call on the administration to end airport profiling of Sikhs and other minorities.

Here's a short review of our work in these places:

Austin, Texas

On Wednesday, January 13th, community members organized by the Coalition's Education Director participated enthusiastically in public hearings to call on the Texas Board of Education to include information on Sikhs in the mandatory public school curriculum.

Harsimran Singh, a high school sophomore, related a personal story to the Board about how he was humiliated by being escorted to the principal's office one day for wearing a "du-rag". He was forced to explain that he was wearing a patka, and that it was a part of his Sikh religion.

Reverend Stephen Nickle, a Chaplain at Trinity University in San Antonio, spoke about the importance of studying other religions and belief systems. He also spoke about how Sikhism is relatively unknown and needs to be taught in school. Other speakers included Manpreet K. Singh and Shammi Kaur Gill from Houston and G.P. Singh from San Antonio.

Read on to learn more about the hearing: Associated Press; Dallas Morning News; Texas Tribune; Community Impact; Sikh Coalition Blog.

Salem, Oregon

Wednesday also saw the Coalition taking a stand for civil rights in Oregon. Mr. Sat Hanuman Singh Khalsa delivered testimony on behalf of the Sikh community to lawmakers in the Oregon legislature. He spoke against Oregon's ban on Sikh public school teachers wearing turbans. He noted that as a government employee of the Transportation Security Admnistration, he is permitted to wear his turban. The testimony was a joint effort of The Sikh Coalition and its partners at UNITED SIKHS and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF).

"We appreciate that the Sikh Coalition has joined with religious groups across Oregon to advocate for repeal of an Oregon statute that prevents Sikhs and others who wear religious dress from teaching in our schools." Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt

Under the leadership of Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt (D-Clackamas County), the Oregon legislature is considering a repeal of the ban for the first time in almost 90 years. Their goal is to promote equal employment opportunity for religious minorities.

You can learn more about this issue by reading our blog, and you can show your support for Sikh teachers by signing a petition to the Oregon legislature.

Washington, DC

On Monday, January 11, the Coalition participated in a Capitol Hill briefing on racial and religious profiling. Arab American Institute President, Dr. James Zogby, moderated the panel, which included Michael German, former FBI agent and current Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Jumana Musa, Policy Director at the Rights Working Group (RWG), and the Sikh Coalition's Program Director.

At the panel, the Coalition stated that, despite assertions that profiling is not the policy of the TSA, a de facto system of profiling long existed for Sikhs at some airports around the country. The new TSA policy requiring 100% screening of nationals from 14 countries changed what was once a de facto policy of profiling into an official policy of profiling. The Coalition called on the TSA to take all measure to end profiling because of its ineffectiveness as a law enforcement technique.

Read in detail about the briefing here. Read press coverage here.

The Coalition will continue to fight for Sikh rights wherever that fight may take us. As always, the Coalition encourages all Sikhs to fearlessly practice their faith and stand up for their rights.


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