UNITED SIKHSWinner of the Sikhs and Charities Award
February 22, 2011
12th Phagun (Samvat 542 Nanakshahi)
Press Release
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UNITED SIKHS Intervenes to Protect Austin Gurdwara Sahib (AGS) From Being Demolished: Amicus Brief Filed on Feb. 18, 2011 with the Texas Supreme Court

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Austin Gurdwara Sahib (AGS) faces the possibility of removal (destruction) based on the Texas Appellate Court's judgment.
  • UNITED SIKHS has intervened and filed an AMICUS BRIEF with the Texas Supreme Court to ensure our voice is heard and that Sikh religious freedoms are not so easily trampled upon.

Austin, Texas: Sikhs in Austin face imminent danger to their religious freedom of assembly and practice if the Texas Supreme Court does not agree to review and subsequently overturn the Appellate Court's judgment that requires the removal of the new Gurdwara. UNITED SIKHS was compelled to intervene by submitting an Amicus ("friend of the court") Brief to the Texas Supreme Court making two major arguments:

  1. The impact on non-parties (Sikh Community) and their First Amendment rights (religious assembly/ practice) implicate an important public interest and militates against issuing such an extreme and overly broad injunction; 
  2. The unclean hands of Plaintiffs fueled by racial/ religious animus should be taken seriously in light of recent legal challenges to the building of houses of worship (specifically for minorities) that are motivated by religous discrimination.  

In a 2010 Report by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Religious Land Use and Instituationalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) cases, they found that 8 of the 18 RLUIPA cases since 9/11 have arisen since May 2010. The Report went on to state that these types of cases are a "sober reminder that, even in the 21st century, challenges to true religious liberty remain." (See DOJ REPORT) The purpose of the Amicus Brief is to aid the Court in its decision making process by raising arguments that reveal the broader public interest at stake.

CASE HISTORY (Litigation has been ongoing for over 3 years):

  • 2003: Austin Gurdwara Sahib (AGS), a mobile home, became a temporary Gurdwara for Austin sangat
  • 2005: City Council of Bee Cave approved site plans for a new permanent Gurdwara Sahib. None of the neighbors in the subdivision challenged the building of a new permanent Gurdwara
  • 2008: Plaintiffs, who moved into the neighborhood in 2008, filed a lawsuit against AGS claiming that AGS had violated its deed restrictions.  They also called the police and accussed AGS members of “terrorizing” the community when AGS members were merely seeking to get majority support
  • 2009 (April): Trial Court found in favor of AGS based on a finding of affirmative defenses
  • 2010 (July): Appellate Court overruled the Trial Court and issued a permanent injunction against AGS
  • 2010 (August): UNITED SIKHS becomes aware of the Appellate decision seeking a permanent injunction against AGS, which would require the entire removal of the new Gurdwara structure
  • 2010 (Nov.): AGS counsel, Jane Webre with the law firm of Scott, Douglass & McConnico, L.L.P., files a Petition for Review with the Texas Supreme Court seeking to overturn the Appellate Court's judgment
  • 2011 (Jan. - Feb.): UNITED SIKHS Senior Staff Attorney, Hansdeep Singh, Legal Fellow, Ilana Ofgang, and Legal Interns, Rebecca Tweneboah and Farah Zubair, researched and drafted an Amicus Brief
  • 2011 (Feb. 18th): UNITED SIKHS filed the Amicus Brief with the Texas Supreme Court
  • 2011 (Feb. 22nd): UNITED SIKHS reaches out to interfaith groups to join the Amicus Brief
 
Austin Gurdwara Sahib and the Sangat
Photo Courtesy: www.savegurudwara.com

UNITED SIKHS urges the Sikh community to stand in solidarity with AGS and to alert their elected representatives that racial/ religious discrimination against minorities cannot be allowed to go unchecked. Senior Staff Attorney, Hansdeep Singh, asserted that the "destruction of a Gurdwara is not merely the removal of wood and plaster, it is the effacing of a house of worship, a sacred space for a community to be immersed in the company of the sadh sangat (holy congregration) and to remember the ONE." 

The loss that the Austin Sikh community would face if the Texas Supreme Court does not overturn the Appellate Court decision cannot be understated; AGS represents the only permanent Gurdwara within approximately 100 miles (the nearest Gurdwara is in San Antonio, Texas). Thus, it becomes evident that the Austin Sikh community's right to religious assembly and to practice their faith will be severely compromised.

For UNITED SIKHS to continue its efforts in protecting our identity (both domestically and internationally), we need the assistance of the Panth, so please Donate Now

We encourage the Sikh community to vigorously practice their faith and members of the Sikh community should not hesitate to report issues in your respective areas that burden your ability to practice your faith. Call 1-888-243-1690 or email law-usa@unitedsikhs.org.

Issued by:
Jaspreet Singh
Legal Director
1-888-243-1690
law-usa@unitedsikhs.org

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UNITED SIKHS filed an Amicus Brief on Feb. 18, 2011, with the Texas Supreme Court.  AMICUS BRIEF

The Amicus Brief is made of compelling arguments geared towards aiding the court in its decision making process.

Show Your Support, Donate Now,

to Assist UNITED SIKHS in Raising these Challenges to our Basic Freedoms

Report issues in your respective areas that burden your ability to practice your faith. Call 1-888-243-1690 or email law-usa@unitedsikhs.org.

PROTECT OUR IDENTITY CAMPAIGN
Protect Our Identity (POI) is an ongoing international campaign launched by UNITED SIKHS in August 2010 . It focuses on the need to protect the Sikh community's right to express its religious identity.  Initiatives under the POI campaign include:
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