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March 4, 2016 Off

A Win For Religious Minorities In the Military

Cap­tain Sim­rat­pal is an hon­ors West Point grad­u­ate, Army Ranger, com­bat vet­eran, Bronze Star recip­i­ent and obser­vant Sikh, who wants to abide by the arti­cles his faith – wear­ing a tur­ban, unshorn hair and a beard – while serv­ing his coun­try.  Instead of grant­ing his recent request for a per­ma­nent reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion, the Army sin­gled him out for spe­cial­ized gas mask and hel­met testing.

Yes­ter­day, a fed­eral dis­trict court in a well-reasoned deci­sion not only rejected these tests, but rec­og­nized the impor­tance of fos­ter­ing reli­gious diver­sity in our military.

sikh warrior When the Cap­tain entered West Point a decade ago, Army rules did not per­mit him to fol­low the arti­cles of his faith.  So he made the dif­fi­cult choice of choos­ing ser­vice to his coun­try over his faith.

In recent years, how­ever, the Army has revised it reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion rules and Sikh sol­ders have been per­mit­ted to abide by their religiously-mandated groom­ing stan­dards. After Cap­tain Sim­rat­pal met some of these sol­ders at a Pentagon-sponsored Sikh cel­e­bra­tion last year, he decided that his mil­i­tary ser­vice should not pre­vent him from fol­low­ing his faith.

Last Decem­ber, he was granted a tem­po­rary accom­mo­da­tion to wear a tur­ban, unshorn hair and a beard pend­ing a deci­sion on his request for a per­ma­nent accom­mo­da­tion.  The Cap­tain was under the belief that the Army would grant the per­ma­nent accom­mo­da­tion, but instead he received orders on Feb­ru­ary 24th to report for rig­or­ous, spe­cial­ized test­ing for the fit­ting of his gas mask and hel­met.  Sol­diers seek­ing to wear a beard for med­ical rea­sons, “Hard to fit” sol­diers with hel­met and mask fit­ting issues, and even other Sikh sol­diers are not required to undergo such testing.

This week, the Cap­tain filed a fed­eral law­suit with the U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia claim­ing that the spe­cial­ized test vio­lated his rights under the Reli­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act (RFRA) and ask­ing to the Court to tem­porar­ily stop them while he awaits a final answer on his request for a per­ma­nent reli­gious accommodation.

The court ruled in his favor stat­ing: Sin­gling out the plain­tiff for spe­cial­ized test­ing due to only his Sikh arti­cles of faith is, in this con­text, unfair and dis­crim­i­na­tory.  It is this sin­gling out for spe­cial scrutiny – indeed, with the ini­tial pre­cau­tion of requir­ing an escort and observers for the plain­tiff as he was sub­jected to the tests – that has a clear ten­dency to pres­sure the plain­tiff, or other sol­diers who may wish to seek a reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion, to con­form behav­ior and forego reli­gious precepts. Rattan sings

ADL over the last decade has expressed con­cerns and advo­cated on issues of reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion and coer­cion in the mil­i­tary.  We wel­come the court’s rul­ing and state­ment that “the pub­lic has a sig­nif­i­cant inter­est in hav­ing a diverse mil­i­tary, reflec­tive of the com­po­si­tion of our coun­try and accept­ing of reli­gious minori­ties.”  The Army should with­draw its order for spe­cial­ized test­ing of Cap­tain Sim­rat­pal and expe­di­tiously grant his request for a per­ma­nent reli­gious accommodation.

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March 23, 2015 1

New FBI Hate Crime Training Manual Published

This week the FBI pub­lished an updated hate crime train­ing man­ual. The excel­lent new guide is the sin­gle most impor­tant, most inclu­sive hate crime train­ing resource avail­able for law enforce­ment officials

DOJ sealThis ver­sion of the Bureau’s Hate Crime Data Col­lec­tion Guide­lines and Train­ing Man­ual  includes new def­i­n­i­tions, train­ing sce­nar­ios, and a spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tions sec­tion to help police offi­cials effec­tively iden­tify and report the new cat­e­gories of crime man­dated for col­lec­tion for 2015 – includ­ing hate crimes directed at Arabs, Sikhs and Hin­dus. The first edi­tion of the man­ual, pub­lished in early 2013, included guid­ance on how to define and iden­tify gen­der and gen­der iden­tity hate crimes, based on require­ments set forth in the Matthew Shep­ard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Pre­ven­tion Act(HCPA).

The FBI has been track­ing and doc­u­ment­ing hate crimes reported from fed­eral, state, and local law enforce­ment offi­cials since 1991 under the Hate Crime Sta­tis­tics Act of 1990 (HCSA). The Bureau’s annual HCSA reports pro­vide the best sin­gle national snap­shot of bias-motivated crim­i­nal activ­ity in the United States. The Act has also proven to be a pow­er­ful mech­a­nism to con­front vio­lent big­otry, increas­ing pub­lic aware­ness of the prob­lem and spark­ing improve­ments in the local response of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem to hate vio­lence – since in order to effec­tively report hate crimes, police offi­cials must be trained to iden­tify and respond to them.

Although the newest data from the 2013 Hate Crime Sta­tis­tics Act report showed hate crimes have been declin­ing, the num­bers are still dis­turbingly high.  The addi­tion of anti-Arab, anti-Sikh, and anti-Hindu hate crimes for 2015 demon­strates the Bureau’s com­mit­ment to pre­vent­ing and coun­ter­act­ing these crimes.  After the tragic mur­der of six Sikh wor­ship­pers in Oak Creek, Wis­con­sin in 2012, col­lect­ing data on Arab, Sikh, and Hindu vic­tims of hate crimes became even more urgent. This updated FBI hate crime train­ing man­ual is a cru­cial step in the work to address these crimes.

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July 31, 2013 Off

Remembering the Hate Crime Victims at Oak Creek – And Acting

Update — August 5, 2013: ADL has joined a coali­tion of groups urg­ing the White House to also take steps to address religious-based vio­lence and discrimination.

On August 5, 2012, six Sikh wor­ship­pers were killed, and four oth­ers wounded, by a white suprema­cist skin­head at their Gur­d­wara in Oak Creek, Wis­con­sin.  The shooter then turned his gun on him­self.  Less than a week after the tragedy, US Attor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder. Jr.  par­tic­i­pated in a memo­r­ial ser­vice for the vic­tims, stat­ing that the crime was “an act of ter­ror­ism, an act of hatred, a hate crime.”  sikh-temple-shooting-oak-creek-anniversary

Now, one year later, we observe the anniver­sary of this tragedy, hon­or­ing the mem­ory of the vic­tims by ele­vat­ing the fight against dis­crim­i­na­tion and hate crimes – and by work­ing to ensure that all places of wor­ship will be safe.

In the after­math of the Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001 ter­ror­ist attacks, our nation has expe­ri­enced a dis­turb­ing num­ber of back­lash attacks against Mus­lim, Sikhs, Arabs, and South Asians.  In fact, the first bias-motivated mur­der after 9/11 was Bal­bir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas sta­tion owner in Mesa, Arizona. 

After the Oak Creek Gur­d­wara mur­ders, ADL Chicago/Upper Mid­west Regional Office Direc­tor Lon­nie Nasatir par­tic­i­pated in a pro­gram in Oak Creek with the US Attor­ney and FBI offi­cials to show sup­port for the com­mu­nity and ADL pro­fes­sion­als across the coun­try reached out to Sikh orga­ni­za­tions to pro­vide resources on how to keep their com­mu­nity insti­tu­tions safe.

ADL has been the national leader in pro­mot­ing improved hate crime data col­lec­tion by law enforce­ment author­i­ties.  Since 2008, the League has sup­ported requir­ing the FBI to col­lect and report spe­cific data on hate crimes directed against Sikhs, Arabs, and Hindus.  

The mur­ders at Oak Creek pro­vided addi­tional impe­tus to make this change.  And the issue was exam­ined and pro­moted in Sep­tem­ber 19 Sen­ate Judi­ciary Sub­com­mit­tee on the Con­sti­tu­tion, Civil Rights and Human Rights hear­ings on “Hate Crime and the Threat of Domes­tic Extrem­ism,” to which the League sub­mit­ted com­pre­hen­sive tes­ti­mony. 

Work­ing with Con­gres­sional cham­pi­ons, like Rep. Joseph Crow­ley, the League helped to coor­di­nate a coali­tion effort to urge the FBI to include these new hate crime data cat­e­gories as part of the Bureau’s annual hate crime report pre­pared under the 1990 Hate Crime Sta­tis­tics Act.   In May, an FBI Advi­sory Pol­icy Board rec­om­mended that the Bureau take this action.  

As we com­mem­o­rate the first anniver­sary of the tragedy at Oak Creek, we can take some solace in know­ing that our com­mu­ni­ties have done some­thing pos­i­tive to address that hor­rific inci­dent.  Col­lect­ing spe­cific data on hate crimes directed against indi­vid­u­als will increase pub­lic aware­ness, encour­age vic­tims to report these crimes, and expand exist­ing engage­ment and rela­tion­ships between law enforce­ment author­i­ties and these com­mu­ni­ties. ADL has joined a coali­tion of groups urg­ing the White House to also take steps to address religious-based vio­lence and discrimination. 

Our atten­tion now turns to work­ing with the FBI and local law enforce­ment offi­cials to pro­vide train­ing and edu­ca­tion on these crimes.

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