Civic Engagement in Washington!

During the week of February 18, members of the Sikh Coalition team went to Washington state to engage with sangat members and state legislators.

The week started with our staff leading a civic engagement training to more than 25 Sikh advocates, most of them young students. During this training, attendees learned how to find their state elected officials’ contact information and how to have effective meetings with them where they can discuss legislation and issues that matter to the sangat. We followed up this engagement with visits to four area gurdwaras, where we discussed aspects of our work from the upcoming school climate report to potential security assessments for houses of worship.

The youth advocates then got to put their training to use during two Sikh advocacy days at the state capital in Olympia, where they talked about two bills that the Sikh Coalition is supporting related to strengthening the response to hate crimes. Members of the Washington sangat can learn more and take action to support these bills here.

State Standards Wins

In late January, the state of Minnesota approved new social studies standards, which will include Sikhi for the first time ever. This victory will give more than 800,000 students in Minnesota’s public schools the opportunity to learn about the Sikh community, and it comes after more than 4 years of work by the Sikh Coalition, the local sangat (including the Sikh Society of Minnesota Gurdwara Sahib), and our interfaith allies. In the same month, the Maryland State Board of Education voted in favor of adopting the revised 6th & 7th Grade Social Studies Frameworks, which will also include Sikhi for the first time ever. And finally, on February 17, the Tennessee Board of Education approved state social studies standards that include teaching about Sikhi for the second time ever.

These are significant milestones in the Sikh Coalition’s multi-year campaign to raise awareness for generations to come by ensuring access to accurate information on Sikhi for every public school student across the nation. Our commitment to inclusive education remains steadfast, whether it be facilitating Sikhi inclusion for the first time or pushing for its renewal.

Defending Sikh Migrants on Capitol Hill

On February 12, a report entitled From Hope to Heartbreak: The Disturbing Reality of Border Patrol’s Confiscation of Migrants’ Belongings was launched by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU-AZ, the Sikh Coalition, and additional partners. The comprehensive report—and a subsequent briefing to members of Congress and their staffs in Washington, DC, on February 15—detailed the harrowing stories of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confiscating personal items, including articles of faith, from migrants at our nation’s southern border.⁠ Sikh Coalition Senior Staff Attorney Sahel Kaur joined the ACLU and our other allies to speak at this briefing. Learn more about all of our work on this issue, dating back to the summer of 2022, here.

Further Updates on the Farmers Protest and Transnational Repression

On February 15, the Sikh Coalition sent a letter to President Biden regarding the need for the United States to take a principled stand in support of the human rights of protesting farmers and agricultural workers in India.⁠ Regardless of how this Farmers’ Protest may develop, it is essential that this administration send an early and clear signal to the Indian government through the recommendations we have highlighted in this letter and other actions.⁠ Of note, our post on the social media site X highlighting this letter was censored at the request of the Indian government; read our statement in response here.

The Sikh Coalition also continues to prioritize our efforts to protect the civil rights and safety of Sikhs in the United States through our work to oppose Indian transnational repression. On February 15, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing called, “Transnational Repression and the U.S. Response” and the Sikh Coalition submitted a statement for the record. Additionally, the Sikh Coalition continues our work in this space by briefing state legislators on transnational repression, providing feedback on state and federal legislation seeking to address the threat, and continuing conversations across federal agencies about how to best protect the civil rights and safety of U.S.-based Sikhs.

Bill Introduced in California to Combat Workplace Discrimination

The Sikh Coalition is proud to announce our sponsorship of AB 2321, introduced on February 9 by California Assemblymember Liz Ortega and developed in partnership with the Sikh Coalition and our legal allies.

The bill was introduced a year after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) rolled out an updated policy that forces bearded peace officers, including those who previously held religious or medical accommodations, to shave or face disciplinary sanctions up to and including termination. This policy change, announced with no notice in February 2023, disproportionately impacts Black and brown CDCR peace officers; Black officers are far more likely to suffer from Pseudofolliculitis Barbae (PFB), a medical condition that causes painful skin inflammation and scarring exacerbated by shaving, and Sikhs and other religious minorities keep facial hair as an article of faith.

AB 2321 would require CDCR to adhere to its obligation, under existing federal and state law, to provide employees with reasonable and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) based on the employee’s individual needs. It would also require the development and implementation of a step-by-step process for submitting accommodation requests and the interactive process CDCR will follow in engaging with these requests—including timelines for review and the rights of peace officers to appeal any denials.

Facilitating Important Conversations in Queens

On February 11, the Sikh Coalition, the NYC Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, and the NYC Commission On Human Rights facilitated productive conversations between a number of parties all deeply involved in the work of preventing and addressing anti-Sikh hate crimes in Queens and NYC more broadly. Guests included Sikh community leaders, members of the press, select elected officials, and representatives of the federal government. The Sikh Coalition will continue to provide avenues for such important conversations as they pertain to our sangat and beyond, and we look forward to additional work around hate crime prevention, inclusive education, and more in Queens in the months ahead.

Chardi Kala Arts Project!

The Sikh Coalition, in partnership with SikhTeens, invites students ages 9-18 to submit their art as a part of the Chardi Kala Art Submission Project for a chance to be featured in the Sikh Coalition’s landmark school climate report, which will be released this spring. The report will reach the eyes of state and federal-level policymakers, educators, school administrators, and parents across the country for many years to come. This submission project, to collect visual material to feature within the report, aims to showcase the abilities of our many talented Sikh students to a wide audience and include even more student voices in the report in a unique way. The deadline for submissions is March 8; fill out the form here to submit.

Legislation Against Book Bans in Colorado and Pennsylvania

Over the past month, the Sikh Coalition has begun to weigh in on state-level legislation that seeks to prevent discriminatory book bans and targeted political attacks on books representing marginalized communities in K-12 public schools and public libraries. We have filed letters of support for such legislation in Washington state, Colorado, and Pennsylvania; additionally, Sikh Coalition Senior Education Manager Savleen Singh testified in support of the Colorado legislation, SB24-049, on February 26. We will continue to explore this space for further advocacy, given how the troubling and growing trend of increasing book bans is explicitly linked to concerns about so-called ‘divisive’ concepts, often aiming to hinder education and meaningful discussions on systemic discrimination, white supremacy, and other issues affecting faith communities like ours.⁠

Additional Sikh Coalition Testimony

Sikh Coalition staff continue to elevate the Sikh perspective at all levels of government through testimony and participation in critical policy dialogues. At the local level, Sikh Coalition Staff Attorney Amreen Partap Singh Bhasin spoke at a joint hearing of two New York City Council committees on February 27 to demand a response to hate-motivated attacks on elderly Sikh men in Queens. At the state level, Education Manager Upneet Kaur provided testimony in favor of a bill pushing for more inclusive curricula in Maryland. And at the federal level, Research and Policy Manager Mannirmal Kaur and Co-Interim Executive Director Graham F. West joined a White House listening session this month to recommend anti-bias policies across the U.S. government.