California Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada held a press conference yesterday at the Gurdwara in West Sacramento, California, alongside representatives of the Sikh Coalition, the Council of American-Islamic Relations – Sacramento Valley, and the local Sikh community to speak about the Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 (also known as AB1964) – the legislation she introduced to the California State Legislature to bolster the protection of workplace religious freedom in California.
Presently, federal law does not provide adequate protections to guarantee that a person would not be discriminated against based on their religious practices by an employer. For example, under current law, an employer can justify forcing a Sikh employee who maintains his or her articles of faith to be removed from public view on the basis that their appearance would cause them a minimal level of hardship and impact upon their business.
Yamada likened this scenario to a Rosa Parks-like situation (which was a very poignant analogy), who, in the late 1950s, refused to give up a seat on a bus to a white passenger, when African Americans were segregated and forced to sit in the rear of the bus.
The Sikh Coalition has been successful in having a version of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act passed in New York city. The current initiative has direct bearing on the Sikhs of California, and indeed sets a precedent for Sikhs across the United States who are often discriminated against based on their appearance. For more information, see the Sikh Coalition website.