October 12, 2023 (Sacramento, CA) — With the support of sangat members and coalition partners across the state of California, the Sikh Coalition continues working to support policies and legislation that would better prevent and combat bullying, hate, and discrimination against Sikhs and other marginalized communities. Below, please find the latest updates on several of these policy initiatives in the state that is home to more than half of U.S.-based Sikhs.
Fateh! Progress in Efforts to Prevent and Address Hate Crimes
The Sikh Coalition was proud to sponsor AB 449, which will require every law enforcement agency across California to adopt a hate crimes policy with detailed, specific protocols instructing officers on how to identify, respond to, and report hate crimes. The bill will also require the California Department of Justice to publicly identify agencies complying with the law. This is legislation that the Sikh Coalition and a group of partner organizations have been working to pass for the past three years. On September 11, the bill passed out of the Senate 39-0; on October 8, it was approved by Governor Gavin Newsom.
Additionally, earlier this year, the Sikh Coalition also stood with the California Civil Rights Department for the creation of the “CA vs. Hate” Network. In advance of the hotline’s launch, we provided information on combating anti-Sikh hate crimes and bias incidents as well as worked to ensure that their resources and support are available in Punjabi.
Gov. Newsom Fails to Ban Caste Discrimination
In conjunction with the California Coalition for Caste Equity, the Sikh Coalition was proud to sponsor SB 403, introduced by State Senator Aisha Wahab and Assemblymember Jasmeet Bains, which sought to outlaw caste discrimination in California. Unfortunately, this bill—which would have reaffirmed California’s commitment as a state that does not condone prejudicial treatment, bias, or discrimination—was vetoed by Gov. Newsom on Saturday, October 7, despite tremendous bipartisan support in the state’s legislature.
The Sikh community knows firsthand the pain and trauma that comes with being repeatedly targeted by hate and discrimination, and the Sikh faith explicitly condemns caste-based discrimination. Accordingly, we worked alongside partners in key ways to support this bill, including by promoting the coalition’s advocacy tool, placing a sangat member’s op-ed with Religion News Service to explore the Sikh position on caste, and joining more than 45 gurdwaras and Sikh organizations in a letter expressing our support.
The Sikh Coalition is deeply disappointed in Gov. Newsom’s choice to ignore support for this measure across political parties and communities. The failure to sign and enact SB 403 represents a missed opportunity to take a meaningful step forward for the civil rights of all. Accordingly, we will continue to fight for legislation that protects all communities—including the Dalit community—from hate and discrimination, both in California and elsewhere across the nation.
Fighting for Inclusive Education and Safe Schools
The Sikh Coalition is proud to have supported AB 1354, which was signed by Gov. Newsom on September 1. This bill requires the state’s Instructional Quality Commission (IQC) to consider for inclusion the contributions made by Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) in the United States. It also asks the IQC to highlight examples of racism, discrimination, and violence that have been perpetrated against AANHPI communities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, the Sikh Coalition also provided support for ACR 18, which urges all schools to ensure that Asian American history and contributions are included in their curriculum, alongside those of other communities of color. This resolution, which should help to ensure that California’s curriculum is representative of the state’s diversity, was passed on June 23.
These victories build on our efforts for more inclusive education standards in California. In 2021, the Sikh Coalition was proud to fight for the inclusion of Sikh stories in the California Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, which included mobilizing 52 gurdwaras and 1,200+ petition signers alongside allies like the Jakara Movement. We also continue to work with our California-based research partners, Dr. Kavita Kaur Atwal and Dr. Erin Knight, as they analyze the data collected in our Sikh Student Survey earlier this year.
Protecting Sikhs in California’s Detention and Correctional Facilities
Finally, the Sikh Coalition also supported SB 309, introduced by State Senator Dave Cortese and signed by Gov. Newsom earlier this year, which seeks to ensure religious minorities in California detention and correctional facilities have the right to exercise religious freedom including accommodations for grooming, clothing, and headwear. Previously, the state did not have a consistent or codified statewide policy for state and local facilities to ensure the right to religious clothing, grooming practices, and headwear accommodations for individuals in custody.
This effort is related to an ongoing and urgent employment discrimination issue. In February, the largest employer in the state—the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation—abruptly moved to rescind all religious and medical accommodations for peace officers who maintain facial hair. In response, we continue to work with legal partners to retain and represent affected clients, as well as encourage sangat members to contact their elected officials about this issue.
All of these initiatives support the Sikh Coalition’s larger organizational efforts to combat bias, bigotry, bullying, and backlash to better protect Sikhs across California. For questions about our work to combat hate in California, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, the Sikh Coalition encourages you to practice your faith fearlessly.