Across the country, Sikh Americans are integral to their communities, including by way of public service in a range of different professions. Unfortunately, in far too many jobs, discriminatory policies and outdated standards around uniform appearance and grooming still prevent many Sikh Americans from pursuing careers. The Sikh articles of faith, including the turban and unshorn hair, have not impeded the abilities of Sikhs to protect and serve their communities in law enforcement roles. Even when Sikhs are allowed to work in law enforcement, they may be denied uniformed positions that interact with the community, leaving them stuck working desk jobs or segregated from the public.
As a civil rights organization, the Sikh Coalition is committed to ending religious discrimination in every sector of the American workplace–and we believe that Sikh Americans should be allowed to serve in any career they choose, including law enforcement. Effectively advocating to end religious discrimination in an employment sector that disproportionately discriminates against Sikhs remains a component of our employment discrimination work because when law enforcement agencies reverse their policies, it further establishes precedent for all Sikhs to practice their faith fearlessly while pursuing any chosen career path.
Note that the Sikh Coalition does not proactively look for clients who want to enter law enforcement agencies; like all of our legal intakes, this work is undertaken on a case-by-case basis. When we do take on a client who is being denied the right to maintain their articles of faith while serving in law enforcement, we pursue an individual accommodation with the understanding that it may be used as the model for a permanent policy change in order to help end religious discrimination for all minorities who choose to go into this employment field. One of our first law enforcement clients, Amric Singh Rathour, achieved a historic accommodation to serve on the NYPD in 2004; moreover, advocacy work like our successful efforts to strengthen the religious accommodation standards in California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act in 2012 had positive effects for Sikhs across the nation. Sikhs have served honorably with their articles of faith wherever inclusive policies have allowed them to do so. Currently, Sikh Americans serve in a number of law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Secret Service, Customs and Border Control, state-level law enforcement, county sheriff offices, and local police departments like the New York Police Department, Chicago Police Department, and Houston Police Department.
- federal and local law enforcement agencies accommodate Sikhs
- s of law enforcement officers trained about Sikhism
- years of work to assist Sikh serving in law enforcement
While the vast majority of our work with law enforcement centers on holding agencies directly accountable when they fail to adequately protect and serve the Sikh community, the Sikh Coalition remains committed to equality of opportunity and the preservation of religious rights for all Sikhs, regardless of their chosen profession. Among our victories in the past few years are policy changes in Irvine, CA and Houston, TX, a major training initiative (in collaboration with other Sikh organizations) to reach more 30,000 officers in NJ, and a series of Sikh awareness briefings for various FBI offices across the country. This work will continue to make for a more inclusive future for Sikh Americans across the country.
Remembering Deputy Dhaliwal
On Friday, September 27, 2019, Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Dhaliwal was shot and killed at a traffic stop in northwest Houston, Texas. Deputy Dhaliwal had served in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office since 2009; in 2015, he became the first officer in the department–and the state of Texas–to serve with his Sikh articles of faith.
In the aftermath of his passing, we joined Sikhs in Houston and across the world in honoring Deputy Dhaliwal’s legacy of seva. This work included supporting two congressional resolutions honoring the deputy, amplifying nearly 100 Sikh voices in law enforcement and the military calling for uniform policy changes, and conducting media outreach to ensure respectful and responsible coverage of his extraordinary life. In October of 2021, a post office in Houston was named in Deputy Dhaliwal’s honor; the Sikh Coalition was proud to have worked on and supported the congressional resolution, sponsored by Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), that made this commemoration possible.
"We appreciate the Sikh Coalition's guidance as we worked to ensure that our uniform policy is inclusive of all who might wish to serve."
Mike Hamel, Chief of the Irvine Police Department in Irvine, CA
How You Can Help
If you know of a Sikh American applying for a law enforcement position who needs free legal advice, please have them reach out to the Sikh Coalition’s legal team.