The Sikh Coalition was founded by volunteers on the night of September 11, 2001 in response to a torrent of violent attacks against Sikh Americans throughout the United States. In those early days, a group of 15 Sikhs decided to take a stand against the civil rights abuses our community faced. These volunteers had normal day jobs, but worked weekends and nights to do everything possible to ensure that our community was protected and our voices were heard.
Since then, the Sikh Coalition has transformed into the largest Sikh American advocacy and community development organization in the United States. In 2003, we hired a legal director as our first staff member. Today, we are a team of 15 full-time staff and fellows who provide the premier legal, policy and community development support to over 500,000 Sikh Americans. We work to create safer schools, prevent hate and discrimination, create equal employment opportunities, empower local Sikh communities and educate the American public about the Sikh faith, community and traditions.
Over the past 15 years, the Sikh Coalition legal team has won numerous workplace discrimination cases against Fortune 500 employers and government agencies, while championing the rights of clients in cases of school bullying, racial profiling, discrimination and hate crimes. Our policy work has secured groundbreaking religious rights laws and dramatic policy improvements for how Sikh hate crimes are tracked by the FBI and how the TSA screens Sikh passengers at airports. Our community empowerment and education work has trained hundreds of Sikh advocates across the country who now stand on the frontlines for defending civil rights. This work has also transformed Sikh school bullying into a national policy issue, and ensured that Sikh history is taught accurately in the curricula of California, Texas, New York and New Jersey.
While the Sikh Coalition will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs and demands of the Sikh American community, we will always remain focused on defending civil liberties in the courtroom, classroom, community and halls of Congress.
We were founded as a volunteer organization in response to 9/11 as hate violence swept the country. The first deadly hate crime in the aftermath happened to a Sikh American, Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was killed outside his gas station in Mesa, Arizona. We were formed in a moment emergency.
For the first three years, we remained a volunteer organization with a core group of fifteen (mostly young) Sikhs who devoted anywhere from 10-30 hours per week to protecting the community. In September, 2003, we hired our first staff member, our Legal Director.
We launched the first national Sikh voter registration drive to increase Sikh civic engagement and we started to work on high impact cases that involved the New York Police Department, New York Metro Transit Authority and a school that tried to deny a Sikh boy the right to wear his turban on graduation.
We filed our first high-impact discrimination lawsuit against the New York Metro Transit Authority charging that a post-9/11 policy requiring Sikhs to brand their turbans with an MTA logo amounts to religious discrimination. We eventually won this case, along with many others to follow.
By our fifth anniversary, we had conducted Sikh Awareness trainings for over 5,500 government officials, police officers, teachers, and human resource professionals. We drafted better regulations that protected Sikh airline travelers and we launched the first-ever database to track over 400 complaints of airline discrimination.
We filed 32 separate profiling complaints against the TSA. As our staff grew, we ramped up our capacity to provide direct support to hate crime victims. We launched our first-ever civil rights report, where we examined the problems Sikh children were facing in school. This report paved the way for many more influential reports in the years that followed.
We launched a new California office, hired more staff and started to scale our “Know Your Rights” materials and presentations to meet the needs of a community that was growing increasingly aware of our resources and demanding more of our support.
We launched our ambitious campaign to end religious discrimination in the military and won a historic new regulation that better protected Sikh children from bias-based harassment in NYC schools. In New Jersey, we helped secure Sikh history in curriculum standards, which jumpstarted other similar state campaigns that followed.
We filed winning discrimination cases against Lexus and Autozone and secured a landmark settlement in a New York City public school anti-bullying case. In Texas, we won the right for Sikh history to be taught in classrooms, which launched a multi-year campaign that secured inclusion of accurate Sikh history by many U.S. textbook manufacturers.
We celebrated our 10th anniversary by securing another milestone legal victory that allowed California Sikhs to maintain their articles of faith in prison. In NYC, we ushered in the landmark “Workplace Religious Freedom Act” and launched our Sikh Advocate Academy, which started a long-term program to empower community leaders to lead local civil rights initiatives.
On August 5, 2012 a gunman walked into a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and killed six Sikh worshippers, injuring several more. We continue to honor the victims by facilitating an annual National Day of Seva (selfless service) across the country. In California, we passed AB 1964, a monumental workplace discrimination law that better protects millions.
In response to Oak Creek, we secured FBI hate crime tracking for Sikhs. Separately, we leveraged our groundbreaking FlyRights smartphone application to hold the TSA more accountable for profiling. Our California November Sikh Awareness Month educated millions, while our Junior Sikh Coalition program became a model for empowering youth leadership.
We landed a victory on behalf of a Sikh child that improved anti-bullying protections for over 100,000 children and we continued to push the military to end their religious discrimination policy by rallying new support. We also added a communications department, which further enabled our programmatic work to thrive.
We were the lead partner with the White House AAPI on a new national #ActToChange anti-bullying initiative and we secured another major legal victory in a discrimination case against Disney World. We witnessed an increase in hate crime cases as we worked to provide even more resources to combat the problem.
We won a landmark legal victory that doubled the number of religious accommodations for Sikh soldiers. We protected Sikh history in California and passed an anti-bullying law that protects minority children across the state. We won a lengthy employment discrimination case on behalf of Sikh truckers and launched The Sikh Project, which educated 20 million Americans.