Press Release

Wednesday, 06 July 2005

21st Aasaarh (Samvat 537 Nanakshahi)

UNITED SIKHS Writes to French Parliament Ahead of Schoolboys' Court Hearing Tomorrow

Paris—UNITED SIKHS has submitted to the President of the French National Assembly, Jean-Louis Debré, its representations to the Law Review Commission which will shortly review the law which banned the wearing of articles of faith, including the Sikh turban in schools. The written representations include a report on how the ban-law has affected French Sikh schoolchildren and a proposal to amend the law so that it only applies to situations where public security and safety are at risk due to religious extremism or conversion. Click here to read the English translation of the representations in full.

"The President of the French National Assembly had invited UNITED SIKHS to submit these representations in response to our request to be heard by the Law Review commission, which has to review the law before September," says Kudrat Singh, director of UNITED SIKHS in France who wrote to Mr Debre .

"Tomorrow (Thursday) the Administrative Appeal court will hear the appeal of the three schoolboys, Jasvir Singh, Bikramjit Singh and Ranjit Singh who were expelled from Louise Michel High School last December for wearing their Turban to school," he added. "We are cautious about the outcome of the hearing tomorrow. The best solution would be for Parliament to recognize the injustice the ban-law is causing and restrict the law to situations which threaten secularity in schools through religious conversions and extremism," he added.

UNITED SIKHS' letter to Mr Debre spells out the legal wrangles that will engage the parties if the law is not revised. "Despite assurances by French government ministers that French Sikh boys would be allowed to practice their religion in schools, the Sikh Turban has been banned. Apart from the case of the three students expelled from Louise Michel High School of Bobigny, a study carried out by UNITED SIKHS showed that eighty four percent (84%) of the children interviewed during a survey were affected by the total or partial prohibition on covering their hair. The emotional and psychological stability of the children and their families has been shaken. In short, the Sikhs of French nationality feel as though they are not accepted today within their own society' Mr Kudrat Singh said in his letter to Mr Debre.

Mr Debre was informed that the wearing of the turban is not merely a dress code that has to be adhered to but entails a spiritual duty far greater. Practising Sikhs wear turbans to fulfil their spiritual path. Sikhs do not wish to ostensibly or influentially portray Sikhi. It is simply a visible sign with greater meaning and no desire to influence wider social forums. It is this significant difference from other religious symbols that the French law has not taken into account. The turban is simply a way of life and this distinction is at the heart of the legal battle against the ban.

The representations to Mr Debre raised both political and legal concerns with the law in France. For example, France itself upholds a secular or non-religious view on State interference with one's beliefs. However this very principle has been broken. The State's guarantee for respect "to various spiritual or religious options, absence of intrusion by political powers, creation of a framework conducive to freedom of religious groups, protection of minority religions"(1.2.3) as stated by Mr. Bernard Stasi, who recommended the ban-law to the President of the Republic, has not been adhered to.

Mr Debre was told that by wearing a turban a Sikh does not threaten public order or interfere with the freedom of conscience of the others, nor raises problems of religious extremism, or other forms of influence. A French-Sikh therefore should not be discriminated against because he wears a turban to fulfil a way of life.

For more information on the Right to Turban campaign, please visit www.unitedsikhs.org/rtt/

Issued by:
Mejindarpal Kaur

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