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March 4, 2016

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

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

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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