American Turban

The Sikhs and the TSA, with a twist

The Sikh kara (photo: sikhnet.com)

The Sikh kara (photo: sikhnet.com)

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and their issues around apparent racial profiling of Sikhs has been a recurring topic on this blog, however, an interesting twist in the news came out recently where the TSA was found to be discriminating against a Sikh employee:

Kulwinder Singh called it a violation of his religious rights, and took his case to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC determined that the Transportation Security Administration was wrong to have Singh hide his kara under a long-sleeved shirt, or not wear it at all.

In recent years, Sikhs have had issues with the TSA over apparent racial profiling, wherein Sikhs with turbans are disproportionately subjected to additional inspection simply for wearing a turban as part of our religious practice. Aside from statements that this isn’t the case, to date the TSA has failed to prove that they do not profile based on religion or ethnicity.

In the past as a traveler, it was also not uncommon for me to be requested by a TSA agent to remove my kara (a steel bracelet that is a Sikh article of faith) before walking through the metal detector.  That demand seems to have been taken out of the security protocol in recent months, but it is clear that the TSA still has issues with our articles of faith.

I once characterized Sikh civil rights issues in the United States as a “canary in the mine” where limits on freedom of religion are concerned. Kulwinder Singh’s attorney reiterated that belief:

Hansdeep Singh said he sees discrimination against Sikhs — a 500-year-old monotheistic religion practiced mostly in Southeast Asia — as a litmus test for discrimination in general, because Sikhism is manifested in adherents’ outward appearance.

Indeed, freedom from discrimination cannot be said to be true until the most vulnerable are also spared.

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