Question on secularism
Sikh body takes France to court on turban ban
Thursday 14th June, 2007

A Sikh NGO on June 11 filed a case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg , France , challenging the French law banning the wearing of the turban on ID document photos.

The director of UNITED SIKHS, Mejindarpal Kaur, told a press conference in Brussels that it is necessary to take such cases to the international courts because “if left unchecked the French law, which undermines the freedom for thought conscience and religion, will have a domino effect on this freedom globally.” The case before the ECHR will be the first such case against France since it passed a law in March 2004 banning the wearing of religious symbols, including the Sikh turban, in public schools.

A British Member of the European Parliament, Neena Gill, who chaired the press conference, urged France and other EU member states to reflect upon the British model. “In Britain those wearing articles of faith including Turbans are treated equally. Many Turban-wearing Sikhs are police officers, army officers and judges.” “Therefore I would ask French authorities to reconsider their position and treat Sikhs as equal members of their society,” said Gill, who was born in Ludhiana , Punjab , India before migrating to the UK . Shingara Mann Singh, 52, a French national for over 20 years, told journalists that his replacement driver's licence was refused by the French authorities in 2005 and again in 2006. France 's highest administrative court, the Conseil D'Etat, has ruled that public security justifies a law which requires Sikhs to remove their turbans to be photographed for driver's licences. “I will give up my head but not my turban, which covers my unshorn hair,” he underlined.

Shingara Singh's lawyer, Stephen Grosz, told the press conference that “forcing a Sikh to remove his turban is an affront to his personal dignity and an insult to his religious beliefs.” “ France is almost alone in imposing this unnecessary requirement,” he added. Another lawyer, Francois Jacquot, from France , said that almost every country in the world where there is a Sikh community allows a Sikh to wear his turban on ID photographs.

An estimated 10,000 Sikhs live in France . Gill said Sikhs were facing similar problems in Belgium and Germany also. “We have to raise awareness how this issue (turban ban) is being abused across Europe and starting to spread not just in France but there are cases in Belgium , Germany and elsewhere,” said Gill, who chairs the EP's India delegation. Since the passing of the controversial French law banning religious symbols in French schools, six Sikh boys have been expelled from school.

A film, “Fighting For My Crown,” which highlights the plight of those affected by the turban ban was screened during the press conference. Sikhs are required by religion to wear their hair unshorn and covered at all times by a turban, an article of faith and an intrinsic aspect of the Sikh identity.

UNITED SIKHS says it's an international non-profit, non-governmental, humanitarian relief, human development and advocacy organisation, aimed at empowering those in need, especially disadvantaged and minority communities across the world.

Article by Courtesy of http://www.neurope.eu

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