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This Press Release may be read online at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-01-07-2008-00.htm
Press Release: 1st Jul 2008, Tuesday 17th Harh (Samvat 540 Nanakshahi )
"The Court has sent a clear message that it is illegal for a school to deny education to a student because of his religious belief," said Walter Van Steen Bruggen, the lawyer hired by UNITED SIKHS and the Guru Nanak Sikh Society of Belgium to represent five Belgian Sikh schoolboys.
"This is proof that Belgium respects the freedom of religion and will not tolerate a ban on religious signs in schools in the name of a uniform policy," said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS legal director.
Hasselt, Belgium - The Hasselt Civil Court overturned today a ban on the patka, a Sikh head covering, which was imposed by a state school, KTA Domein Speelhof, on five Sikh schoolboys since 2005.
The court said that the ban on the religious head covering was a violation of the Sikh students' right to manifest their religion under article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Belgium is a signatory.
In a judgment handed down today, Judge Madam H. Coenen said that by excluding young people because of their religious beliefs the Domein Speelhof school in St Truiden had violated their right to practice their faith.
On 26th May, the Hasselt court heard evidence that in 2005, KTA Domein Speelhof school, that had previously allowed Sikh students to wear the patka, had introduced a uniform rule banning the wearing of any head dress, including the patka, which affected five Sikh schoolboys, Pawandeep Singh, 18, Jaswant Singh, 20, Parminder Singh, 17, Harjeet Singh, 14, and Sukhdeep Singh, 16.
"The Court has sent a clear message that it is illegal for a school to deny education to a student because of his religious belief," said Walter Van Steenbrugge, the lawyer hired by UNITED SIKHS and the Guru Nanak Sikh Society of Belgium to represent the five Belgian Sikh schoolboys.
"Unlike France, there is no law in Belgium that bans religious signs in schools, yet the school in question had imposed the ban in the name of a school uniform policy that banned any head covering," said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS legal director who had been dealing with this case since 2005.
"This judgment proves that Belgium respects freedom of religion and will not tolerate a ban on religious signs in schools in the name of a uniform policy. We applaud and thank the families of the five Sikh schoolboys and the 6,000 strong Belgian Sikh community for standing resolutely against the ban," she added.
Pawandeep Singh, one of the students who had to leave the school because of the ban on the patka said, "I couldn't believe it when I was told just now that we have won the case. I am very happy for all Sikh boys who will now be able to wear a patka in all Belgian schools."
In 2005, UNITED SIKHS took up the case in response to a global appeal for assistance from the secretary of the Guru Nanak Sikh Society of Belgium, Amarjit Kaur, who said that the ban at Domein Speelhof had forced the Sikh students to travel 100 miles everyday to attend another school or to attend school with a bare head.
"I am thankful to the Hasselt court for upholding the rights of children to practise their faith.," said Amarjit Kaur.
The president of the Sikh Sangat Gurdwara in St Truiden, Mohinder Singh, said, "We thank God for the outcome and are relieved that the court has seen it right to uphold our children's right to obtain a sound education whilst they practice their faith."
Parents of the affected students telephoned UNITED SIKHS to convey their gratitude for the support they received. "We are very grateful to UNITED SIKHS, the Guru Nanak Sikh Society and the global Sikh community for standing by us," said Karamjeet Singh, father of Harjeet Singh and Sukhdeep Singh, who will be returning to Domein Speelhof school wearing their patka, whilst the other three students will continue their education in the technical schools in which they are now enrolled.
You may read a previous press release on UNITED SIKHS advocacy campaign for the right to wear a turban in France at http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-04-06-2008-00.htm.
International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy (ICHRA)
To transform underprivileged and minority communities and individuals into informed and vibrant members of society through civic, educational and personal development programs, by fostering active participation in social and economic activity.
UNITED SIKHS is also an avenue for networking between like-minded organisations to establish and nurture meaningful projects and dialogues - whether social, cultural or political- to promote harmony, understanding and reciprocity in our villages, towns and cities.
UNITED SIKHS is a coalition of organisations and individuals, who share a common vision based on the belief that there is no greater endeavour than to serve, empower and uplift fellow beings. The core of our philosophy is an unwavering commitment to civic service and social progress on behalf of the common good.
Accordingly, UNITED SIKHS has sought to fulfil its mission not only by informing, educating and uplifting fellow beings but also by participating in cross-cultural and political exchanges to ensure that the promises and benefits of democracy are realized by all.
We at UNITED SIKHS believe that the development of enlightened and progressive societies can be made possible by socially conscious groups of people who make a commitment to develop and direct human potential. Our work, efforts and achievements stand as a testament to our faith in this vision.