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 20 full- and part-time staff who provide premier legal, policy, and community development support to more than 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 20 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 anti-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, New Jersey, Tennessee, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, Michigan, North Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana, and most recently Kansas.
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 community, courtrooms, classrooms, 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.
We spent our early days desperately trying to give the Sikh community a voice while learning on the job about how to professionally advocate for our rights. We banged on congressional office doors, chased down legal services to support Sikhs in crisis and worked primarily at night and over weekends because there was no financial support for our work yet.
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.
We secured updated rules by the U.S. Army that significantly improve the standards for Sikhs and other religious minorities to serve with their religious articles of faith intact. In a separate effort to invest more in the grassroots, we successfully contacted over 3,000 government officials at the local levels and launched our national Gurdwara Security Project aimed at making Sikh houses of worship safer in the increased climate of hate.
We facilitated the first-ever hour-long cable episode exclusively focusing on the Sikh American community that reached 745,000 Americans within 24 hours. We also secured two more landmark education victories in Colorado and Arizona that enable Sikhism to be accurately taught in schools for the first time. We remained on the front lines by providing free legal services to over 200 Sikh community members dealing with bias, hate, discrimination, bullying and religious rights issues.
We worked with more than 30 sangats from coast to coast hold open house events in celebration of Guru Nanak Sahib Ji’s 550th gurpurab, and landed Sikhi in four more states’ social studies curricula. We also settled a decade-long employment discrimination case with a school district, and shined a spotlight on school bullying of religious minorities through a major television network special.
In response to COVID-19, we moved quickly to produce English and Punjabi resources for the community, while also raising Sikh awareness with 50+ U.S. news stories featuring pandemic-related seva--including a New York Times feature. In the meantime, we also secured a hard-fought hate crime victory in Colorado, ensured the inclusion of Sikhi in Indiana and Kansas' state standards, boosted Sikh civic engagement in the 2020 Census and elections, and hosted a first-of-its-kind weeklong slate of digital programming for the sangat.