October 8, 2014 (Fremont, CA) – Two years ago, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB1964, or the California Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA), into law. AB1964 prohibits religion-based segregation in the workplace and strengthens the legal standard for religious accommodations in favor of employees and job applicants. AB1964, which went into effect in January 2013, provides workers in California the nation’s strongest protections against religious discrimination.

The passage of this bill was a historic win for the civil rights community, and represents one of the most far-reaching victories in the Sikh Coalition’s history.

To celebrate AB1964, the Sikh Coalition is proud to bring you the first of four stories of community members who benefited from the new law. Today, we share the story of Deputy Sheriff Harinder Kaur Khalsa of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in Alameda County, California.

2014-October-Harinder-Khalsa-quoteMeet Deputy Sheriff Harinder Kaur Khalsa 

Deputy Sheriff Khalsa is the longest-serving turbaned Sikh American in a uniformed law enforcement position in the United States.

Harinder Kaur Khalsa, a former social worker, joined the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) in 2004. In 2005, she graduated from the police academy and was hired as a Deputy Sheriff. Deputy Sheriff Khalsa enjoys working with people, using her Punjabi language skills at her job, and de-escalating potentially dangerous situations.

In 2009, Deputy Sheriff Khalsa took Amrit (the Sikh religious initiation) and began wearing a turban. ACSO told her that she could not wear her turban while in uniform. The agency gave her only one option — a non-uniformed desk assignment; in other words, she could not wear her turban while wearing her Deputy Sheriff uniform. At the time, state law in California was not strong enough to protect Deputy Sheriff Khalsa.

She chose to stay with ACSO and wear her turban in a dead-end assignment that segregated her from the public. Three years later, AB1964 became law. The bill strengthened California’s laws against workplace discrimination and explicitly outlawed segregation on the basis of religious dress.

In January 2013, ACSO complied with the requirements of AB1964 and finally allowed Deputy Sheriff Khalsa to wear her turban with her Deputy Sheriff uniform, and made all uniformed assignments available to her.

Community Leadership Makes a Difference This victory could not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the California Sikh community, which made numerous trips to the state capitol to testify at hearings and show their support for AB1964. Although the bill was introduced by State Assembly Member Mariko Yamada and sponsored by the Sikh Coalition, the grassroots activism of the California Sikh community during each step of the legislative process made all the difference.

f you know of anyone impacted by AB1964, please contact us at advocacy@sikhcoalition.org.

As always, we urge all Sikhs to practice their faith fearlessly.