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This Press Release may be read online at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-26-02-2008-00.htm

Press Release: 26nd Feb 2008, Friday, 15th Phalgun (Samvat 539 Nanakshahi )

Press Release

Washington State Takes Action to Rectify Religious Discrimination Against Sikhs Regarding Photo IDs

Seattle, WA: After previously being issued driver’s licenses that were “Not Valid for Identification”, Salwinder S. Atwal, Kundan Singh, and Gurpreet Singh of Washington State will be receiving driver’s licenses that are valid for identification including pictures with their turbans as they are normally worn. UNITED SIKHS, working alongside the Gurdwara Singh Sabha of Washington, approached the Governor’s Office and Department of Licensing officials to discuss discrimination against Sikhs in the issuing of driver’s licenses. As a result, Governor Christine Gregoire has promised immediate action to ensure that Sikhs will receive valid licenses, without restrictions on their turbans.

Within the last two months, three Sikh gentlemen have sought to renew their driver’s licenses, but have been asked to remove their turbans or to lift them so that their hairline and ears were visible. Despite repeated explanations by the Sikh gentlemen that the turban is worn for religious reasons and is part of their everyday appearance, Department of Licensing officials continued to state that Washington regulations required the hairline and ears to remain visible in photo identification. Two of the Sikh men refused, which resulted in the Department of Licensing issuing the men driver’s licenses marked “Not Valid of Identification.”

Mr. Lee Marchisio, a spokesperson for Governor Gregoire, commented that protective measures will be put into place to ensure that religious discrimination does not continue against any group under the identification guidelines. Mr. Marchisio also expressed the governor’s regret over the incidents and stated that those who have been discriminated against may immediately receive licenses that are valid for identification. Commenting further, Mr. Marchisio indicated that the Governor’s Office will be issuing a memorandum to all Department of Licensing offices state-wide specifically on this issue, to ensure uniformity of enforcement of the correct guidelines.

“We are closely monitoring the situation by making sure the governor’s office is taking immediate steps to institute corrective measures by issuing guidance to the Department of Licensing to prevent discrimination against Sikhs. We appreciate the governor’s office cooperating with UNITED SIKHS and the Seattle Sikh Community in acting immediately to rectify the situation,” remarked Legal Director of UNITED SIKHS Harpreet Singh. UNITED SIKHS would like to thank Governor Gregoire for her cooperation, as well as the Gurdwara Singh Sabha of Washington’s community activists Satwant and Gurcharan S. Dhaliwal, Jaswinder S. Pannu, and President, Harinderpal S. Bains for their assistance and diligent efforts to resolve these cases. “I appreciate UNITED SIKHS taking such swift action in resolving this matter. I hope other Sikhs who face this issue will report it quickly so that they may receive a new license,” stated Salwinder S. Atwal.

UNITED SIKHS will continue to pursue cases of photograph identification discrimination against two Sikhs in South Carolina, where the Department of Motor Vehicles officials told the two gentlemen to remove their turbans for their state-issued photo IDs. “It is imperative that South Carolina officials realise that the current policy discriminates against Sikhs and other religious groups,” commented Jaspreet Singh, Staff Attorney for UNITED SIKHS. “Any such policy must be amended to avoid denying anyone of his or her rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. UNITED SIKHS is working to ensure that South Carolina remove this impediment to religious freedom and allow Sikhs to be photographed for state-issued IDs with their turbans on as usual.”

Report your experiences, positive or negative, when applying for identification documents, so that we are able to present a complete picture of discriminatory practices against Sikhs to the appropriate authorities, at http://unitedsikhs.org/photoidreport/ , or by telephone at 1-888-243-1690.

For an earlier press release on UNITED SIKHS' initiative to combat religious discrimination for photograph identification, please visit:

Issued by

Baljit Kaur
International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy (ICHRA)
Email: law@unitedsikhs.org
1 646 315 3909

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