“The Army Is Making Me Choose Between My Faith and My Country” By Iknoor Singh

All my life, I’ve dreamed of serving my country.

But when I tried to enlist in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at Hofstra University, I was told I couldn’t because of my religious beliefs. I follow the Sikh faith, which requires that I keep my hair long and wear a turban and beard. The ROTC recruiters said I would not be able to enlist unless I complied with all Army grooming and uniform rules, which would require me to immediately cut my hair, shave off my beard, and remove my turban.

I couldn’t believe the military was asking me to make the impossible decision of choosing between the country I love and my faith.

Sikhs have had a long and rich tradition of military service in nations across the globe since World War I. Currently, we are allowed to serve in the armed forces of Canada, Great Britain, and India, among others. How is it possible that most Sikhs like me are prohibited from serving in the United States—a nation whose founding principle is religious freedom?

After learning that the Army had granted religious accommodations to several Sikhs and soldiers of other faiths, I decided to apply for one too, but my request was denied. The decision made little sense to me. In addition to religious accommodations that have been granted, the Army allows men to wear beards for medical reasons and wigs to cover baldness. Women may have long hair provided they keep it neat and out of the way. There is no indication that these existing grooming policies and accommodations have caused problems.

That’s why I decided to file a lawsuit with the help of UNITED SIKHS and the ACLU.  Religious beliefs and practices shouldn’t prevent military service where, as in my case, they don’t pose any risk to the military and they don’t harm others.

In the aftermath of 9/11, many Sikhs were mistaken for Muslims. The Sikh turban and beard were equated with terrorism. Sikhs became the victims of the unfortunate and sad wave of anti-Muslim sentiment that swept many parts of the country, including a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin two years ago.

Barring us from serving in the military because of our religious practices helps reinforce these hurtful stereotypes.  It is my hope that, when fellow Americans see Sikhs like me defending this great nation, the misperception of Sikhs being “terrorists” and “foreigners” will fade away. They will start judging Sikhs for who we are, based on our character, as opposed to how we look.

Many of my non-Sikh friends and peers have already joined the ROTC program or enlisted in various branches of the military. We had nurtured our dreams together to join the armed forces ever since we were little kids. I don’t want to be left behind just because I’m adhering to the tenets of the faith I was born into.

Choosing between one’s faith and serving one’s country is a decision that no one should have to make.


Iknoor Singh, Client and UNITED SIKHS Advocacy and Humanitarian Aid Academy Graduate

Iknoor Singh, Client and UNITED SIKHS Advocacy and Humanitarian Aid Academy Graduate

In Remembrance of Balbir Singh Sodhi

Today, we remember Balbir Singh Sodhi, a hard working American, who lost his life to hate 13 years ago in Arizona. He was one of the first victims to the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. As a practicing Sikh, Balbir wore a turban and sported a beard, leading his attacker to believe he was a terrorist. As Balbir was planting flowers outside his gas station, he was shot five times by his attacker.

Now, Balbir’s turban from that tragic day lies within the ‘Beyond Bollywood’ exhibit in the Natural History Museum in Washington, DC.

Mr. Rana Sodhi, Balbir’s brother, spoke to UNITED SIKHS about the memory of his brother and the fight against ignorance: “Since 9/11/2001, a lot of innocent people have been killed. Ignorance took my brother’s life. I lost two brothers in a 10 month period. Despite these things, i feel so proud to be a part of this country. The love and respect expressed by the government and community gives encouragement to my family to speak for justice and our freedoms. It gives me encouragement to make our country better. I am so proud of this country and I honor my brothers as I talk to elementary schools students and educate the community about our religion.”

The Sodhi family’s congressional representative, Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (9-AZ), also commented, “Today we remember Balbir Singh Sodhi, whose life was cut short due to a vicious shooting. I condemn all acts of violence against innocent civilians; those who commit such acts should be held accountable. In America, we celebrate diversity, and it is in Balbir’s legacy that we must work to ensure that celebration. My deepest thoughts are with the family of Balbir.”

In July, UNITED SIKHS met with over 30 government and congressional offices to discuss issues of discrimination and hate. UNITED SIKHS is committed to fighting for the Sikh community’s rights to practice their religion freely in America, and abroad. We continue to work hard with the United States government to assure ignorance is quashed through education, and justice is brought forth for those who fall victim to hate.

If you are a victim of hate, report it here: http://unitedsikhs.org/reporthc.php


UNITED SIKHS commends Canada Government on Kirpan Accomodation Policy in Canada Missions

On Monday, April 14, 2014, the government of Canada approved a new policy which allows Sikh visitors to Canadian missions abroad to wear kirpans. The new policy was announced by  Tim Uppal, minister of state (multiculturalism), on behalf of Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird. UNITED SIKHS commends Mr. Tim Uppal and the government of Canada for embracing religious freedom and taking the opportunity to understand the importance of the kirpan to the global Sikh community.

According to the statement, kirpan carriers must be sure to secure the kirpans within a sheath, attached to a fabric belt, and worn under the clothing across the torso. They must also follow the other four Sikh articles of faith: Kesh (uncut long hair), Kangha (wooden comb), Kara (steel or iron bracelet), and a Kaccha (undergarment).

This is a victory for the Sikh community and demonstrates that Canada is one step closer to accepting the significance of the Sikh articles of faith and their deep rooting meaning to followers of the faith.

However, the struggles for kirpan acceptance has not always been universal in Canada. In 2011, the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously to ban the kirpan from its premises. UNITED SIKHS created a press release and petition (which can be viewed here: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-27-02-2011-00.html and here: http://unitedsikhs.org/petitions/petition.php?id=14) to generate signatures contesting their decision. A report was also made to address the issue (http://unitedsikhs.org/docs/BackgrounderKirpaninCanada.docx.pdf).

Later in 2012, Toronto became the first city in Canada to create a policy allowing Sikhs to allow kirpans into courts.  In 2013, Alberta province  created a similar policy allowing kirpans in their courts. The kirpan has also been permitted at the Parliament of Canada and the Supreme Court of Canada.

We at UNITED SIKHS will continue to push for kirpan accommodation policies in Canada and internationally.



Statement of support and solidarity with the Jewish community after Kansas City attacks

Yesterday a well-known white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader shot and killed 3 people in attacks at a Jewish community center and Jewish retirement complex near Kansas City. UNITED SIKHS extend our support and prayers to those affected by these attacks and stand in solidarity with the Jewish community.
In August 2012, a white supremacist similarly opened fire at a Sikh house of worship and the Sikh community continues to heal from this massacre in Wisconsin.
No community should have to face such criminal acts of hatred. It is a reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done to fight the ignorance which drives such attacks and we will assist the Jewish community in any way we can as they recover from these heinous acts of violence.

New White House Initiative Brings Hope to Disadvantaged Youth

co-authored by Apneet Singh Sidhu

WASHINGTON, DC, USA (March 7, 2014) —On February 28th, 2014, President Obama unveiled his, “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative, which focuses on helping every disadvantaged youth find opportunities. Boys and young men of color, who are willing to work hard, will now have a new pipeline for mentorship, support networks, and skills. The Sikh community, in particular, is encouraged to partner with local businesses and organizations to help the next generation of Sikhs go to college and find good jobs. With recent news and involvement of young Sikhs getting involved in gang activity in neighborhoods and cities, such as Richmond Hill, Queens, and Vancouver, B.C., the timing of this initiative could not have been more imperative.

We at UNITED SIKHS have been working with Sikh community members who have asked us for help to bring positive influences to the youth in their community. As we continue to build a strong partnership with the parents of our youth and their respective communities, it is also important for Sikh leaders to engage young Sikhs across the U.S.A. and Canada. This is an issue of national importance. UNITED SIKHS believes every child deserves a chance and will continue to engage in dialogue to assure our youth stay on the right path to reach their full potential.

As President Obama noted in his speech, “They never gave up on me, and so I didn’t give up on myself.” This is the notion we need to instill in the youth facing obstacles in our community. If you would like to get involved, please contact us at law-usa@unitedsikhs.org  or call 646-688-3525.

Advocacy and Legal Efforts Pay Off with Passage of New EEOC Guidelines

UNITED SIKHS is elated to convey the news about EEOC’s new guidelines on Religious Garb and Grooming in the workplace.  Now, businesses cannot refuse to interview a Sikh with a turban, nor can they limit where employees work because of their religious dress. That means that an employer cannot tell a Sikh that he/she will be given a position which does not involve dealing with patrons directly. Doing so would amount to a violation of EEOC’s guidelines.

We are humbled and proud at the same time to have directly and indirectly worked hard towards the implementation of these new guidelines. We vociferously raised this issue at every relevant forum, whether it was at meetings with Congressional offices, EEOC officials, and at the Department of Justice interagency meetings.  A little over six months ago, the EEOC made a determination in favor of our client, on her religious discrimination claims. It held that, “the evidence obtained in the investigation establishes reasonable cause to believe that the Respondent discriminated against the Charging Party because of her religion, Sikh, by failing to provide a religious accommodation, in violation of Title VII.” In this case, one of our client’s superiors had tormented her based on her new appearance. She had been newly initiated into the Sikh faith, and started wearing the turban (keski) to work. UNITED SIKHS is still actively pursuing this matter; we are now preparing to represent our client again at the upcoming EEOC conciliation proceedings.

We strongly believe that cases involving religious discrimination will be handled more justly with these guidelines in place. It is the persistent advocacy by us, other Sikh advocacy organizations, and the previously mentioned determination by the EEOC in favor of our client, which have vastly contributed towards the implementation of these new guidelines.

If you have personally been a victim of employment discrimination, please contact us at law-usa@unitedsikhs.org  or call 646-688-3525. We will continue to take up similar cases of discrimination and injustice and bring them to their just conclusion.








UNITED SIKHS supports FIFA’s Removal of Ban on Headwear

Following a meeting of the International Football Association Board in Zurich, FIFA has decided to lift a ban on head covers worn for religious purposes. This decision impacts both Muslim women and Sikh men who are required by their faith to wear religious head wear.

After FIFA expressed concerns of safety concerns, a two-year trial took place to see if head wear affected performance; no such effect was found.   The rule change will go into effect in June 2014.

Anisha Singh, Attorney and Policy Advocate for UNITED SIKHS, stated, “This is a step in the right direction for the understanding that religious head wear does not pose threats to safety.  It brings hope that the turban ban in effect in France, and being considered in Quebec, will also be put to rest soon. The United States military has also expressed concerns of religious head wear posing a threat to safety, and UNITED SIKHS will continue to fight to get such bans and measures reversed as well.”

“UNITED SIKHS was the only organization to obtain consent from parents of Sikh youths in Quebec to fight for their concerns regarding the patka ban in soccer there. We took the issue with FIFA, the Sports Minister, and all other related authorities. The issue was prominently discussed during the Canadian Sikh Summit in the Canadian Parliament in 2013.  FIFA ultimately gave the positive decision to allow patkas to be worn by Sikh youth while playing Soccer.” Deepinder Singh, Community Advocate for UNITED SIKHS, said.

UNITED SIKHS has also fought and won cases involving the turban ban in France, and advocated against any proposed turban ban in Quebec, through advocacy efforts worldwide.



US Sikhs ask French President Hollande to stop violating Freedom of Religion in France and adopt the UNHRC’s resolution at the 108th Session of the Committee’s sitting

February 11, 2014: Washington DC, DC:  UNITED SIKHS wrote to President Barack Obama to bring up the issue of the violation of the turban ban in France during the visit of French President Hollande.  During his trip, the French President met with Charlottesville, VA Mayor Satyendra Huja and President Barack Obama and was invited to the State Dinner.

“I have been a French citizen for more than 20 years. I continue to be proud to be French but I fail to see how my country can be proud of its slogan of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity if it cannot uphold its citizens’ fundamental right to religious freedom. I hope that the UNHRC’s decision will wake France up to its international obligations,” said Shingara Singh, who is struggling to conduct his life in France without an identity document.  His driver’s license had been refused because of his refusal to bare his head for the ID photograph.

“The UN Human Rights Committee has said that by requiring Shingara Singh to remove his turban for his passport photograph, France has violated his right to religious freedom that is guaranteed under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and that France must now re-examine his passport application and review the relevant laws to ensure that no violations of the same occur in the future,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS International Legal Director, who is at the fore-front of a legal campaign for French Sikhs’ right to wear their turban.

As per the the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s report, “The  Committee concludes that the regulations requiring him to appear in his passport photographs ‘with the head uncovered’ is a disproportionate restriction that poses a threat to the author’s [Shingara Singh’s] freedom of religion and thereby constitutes, in the present instance, a  violation of Article 18 of the Covenant.  The Covenant was entered into force for France on February 4, 1981.

Shingara Singh,  a French national, who refused to remove his turban for his passport photograph

Shingara Singh, a French national, who refused to remove his turban for his passport photograph

French President Hollande

French President Hollande




UNITED SIKHS Salutes New York City Mayor for Proposing Deal to End NYPD ‘Stop-and-Frisk’

New York, NY-On January 30th, 2014, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio announced the city had reached an agreement over the NYPD’s ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ policy. This policy includes stopping, interrogating, and frisking minorities in the less affluent neighborhoods of New York City.

“We’re here today to turn the page on one of the most divisive problems in our city,” Mr. De Blasio said at a news conference.

Due to its profiling nature, Sikhs and Muslims have been particular targets of this policy. The ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ policy was found to be unconstitutional by a federal judge about a year ago for this reason, finding it to be, “a policy of indirect racial profiling.”

The city has appealed this decision but Mayor De Blasio and Center for Constitutional Rights have announced that they will now settle the suits by pursuing the judge’s remedies.

“This is a positive step towards seeing an end to the ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ policy. It has been too long that Sikhs and other minorities living in or visiting New York City have been stopped and questioned because of their appearance, where they come from, or what neighborhood they happened to be in. The majority of these ‘stops’ were of people who are innocent,” said Anisha Singh, policy advocate and attorney for UNITED SIKHS.  “We thank Mayor Bill De Blasio for withdrawing the city’s appeal and embracing the judge’s remedies.”

UNITED SIKHS has received many complaints from New York residents who experienced ‘Stop-and-Frisk.’

The Stop-and-Frisk program in New York City is a practice of the New York City Police Department by which police officers stop and question hundreds of thousands of pedestrians annually, and frisk them for weapons and other contraband. The rules for stop, question and frisk are found in New York State Criminal Procedure Law section 140.50. The stop-and-frisk program also aims to promote proactive policing. Proactive policing is the practice of deterring criminal activity by showing police presence and engaging the public to learn their concerns, thereby preventing crime from taking place in the first place. It began with former Mayor David Dinkins, 1990-1993. New York, having the reputation of being a dangerous crime infested city that it was, needed a turn around. Dinkins attempted to do this with a 1.8 billion dollar plan to fight fear in New York by hiring 8,000 new officers. NYC.gov shows the murder rate in New York City peaked in 1990 and dropped 30% by 1994. However, most of the credit goes to Dinkins’ successor, Rudy Giuliani.

UNITED SIKHS International Civil and Human Rights Directorate is here to assist you with hate/bias-related crimes and incidents. Examples include racial slurs and rudeness, such as spitting, name-calling etc., indirect discrimination in the workplace and behavior such as refusal of entry to places of leisure because of their particular racial features, and physical assaults against people resulting in loss of life and damage to property, including Gurdwaras and homes. If you or someone you know has experienced any of these harmful acts, please reach out to us at law-usa@unitedsikhs.org.


Sikh Groups Call On Obama To Reinstate IRS Agent Fired For Wearing Religious Article Of Faith

WASHINGTON, DC, USA (February 2, 2014)—On January 28, 2014 letters were sent to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder by twelve major American Sikh advocacy organizations, including United Sikhs, calling on the Obama Administration to immediately reinstate Kawaljeet Tagore, a Sikh IRS Agent based out of Houston, TX fired in July, 2006 for wearing a kirpan, a Sikh religious article of faith.

Following her termination, Tagore sued the IRS and the Federal Protective Service (FPS),the federal agency responsible for the security of federal buildings, under Title VII and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for failing to accommodate her Sikh religious practice of wearing the kirpan, a dagger-like article that symbolizes the Sikhs’ commitment to justice.  Even though FPS and IRS allow saws, box cutters, letter openers, and cake knives into federal buildings for work-related purposes, the IRS and FPS defended Tagore’s lawsuit by claiming that a federal criminal law, 18 U.S.C. section 930, prohibits them from according Tagore any accommodation for her kirpan.

In 2012, a Houston federal judge sided with the government and dismissed Tagore’s lawsuit. However, on November 13, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit—relying on a December, 2012 FPS Policy Directive that requires accommodation of kirpans —reversed the federal judge’s ruling in favor of FPS. The Fifth Circuit held that the new FPS Policy Directive “contradicts the arguments previously advanced by the government for denying Tagore an exception or exemption for the wearing of her kirpan.

Yet, to date, the government has refused to reinstate Tagore to her position as an IRS agent, compensate her, or accommodate her kirpan.

“A hard working IRS agent is being kept from work due to her religious beliefs in a country founded on diversity and religious freedom. The FPS has already allowed 2.5 inch kirpans in almost 9,000 federal buildings but will not allow Ms. Tagore to wear her kirpan to work in an IRS building. Now that this inconsistency has been addressed by the Fifth Circuit, it is time to give Ms. Tagore her job back,” said Anisha Singh, staff attorney and policy advocate for United Sikhs.

In their letter, United Sikhs, along with other Sikh advocacy groups, claim that the “IRS and FPS’ continuing violation of Ms. Tagore’s right to religious accommodation is contrary not only to RFRA and FPS Directive but to the guiding principles and tenets of the Obama Administration,” including an Executive Order that requires federal agencies to promote diversity. The Sikh groups call on Obama to “direct the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, IRS, and FPS to appropriately resolve” Tagore’s lawsuit, by “reinstating her employment with the IRS and providing her with an exemption to wear her kirpan to work.”