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Monday, August 07, 2006

Court Works With Sikh Coalition to Create Appropriate Entry Policy

From the Sikh Coalition:
After working with the Sikh Coalition, a courthouse in Illinois will now allow Sikhs to enter without removing their turbans

Long Struggle to Pay Traffic Ticket

Inderveer and Manjit Singh arrived at the Will County courthouse in on March 17, 2006 to pay a traffic ticket. Inderveer Singh had received the ticket. His father, Manjit Singh, accompanied him.

As father and son were about to pass through the court’s metal detector, a security guard said that they would have to take off their turbans if they wanted to enter the courthouse. Manjit Singh told the security guard that their turbans are mandatory articles of their faith that can not be removed in public. Manjit Singh also told the security guard that he works as an officer for the state of Illinois and had not had encountered a problem wearing his turban before at the courthouse.

The security guard replied by saying that will have to talk to his Sergeant about whether they could enter courthouse without removing their turbans. A few minutes later, a courthouse Sergeant came to talk to them. The Sergeant stated that the Chief Judge, the Honorable Stephen White, must approve them entering the courthouse with their turbans on.

The Sergeant also told them that they said that they would have to remove their turbans if they wanted to go into the courthouse to speak to the Chief Judge because he could not come down to speak with them.

Inderveer Singh and Manjit Singh refused to take off their turbans in accordance with their sacred beliefs. Manjit Singh then provided the Sergeant with a state photo I.D. to show to the Chief Judge. The Sergeant left with the photo to show it to the Chief Judge. He later came back and stated that the Chief Judge replied in reaction to seeing the I.D., "In 25 years I have never seen him in this court room." The Sergeant then said he would not allow them in the courthouse.

Manjit Singh then decided to call his lawyer to ask for assistance. He asked that his attorney come to the court immediately. When his attorney arrived, he asked Inderveer Singh to sign the ticket, so that he could go into the court and submit it for Inderveer.

Five minutes later the Chief Judge came to meet with them. He explained that people are not allowed to wear head coverings in court because gang members could bring weapons to court concealed by a hat. He said, however, that he would allow Inderjit Singh and his father into the courtroom as long as their attorney, who is an officer of the court, said they were not bringing any weapons into the court under their turbans. Inderjit Singh was then able to go into the courtroom to pay his ticket.

Coalition Works With Courthouse for Policy Change

On April 21, 2006 the Coalition’s Legal Director sent Judge White a fourteen-page letter and packet of information on the rights of Sikhs to enter places of public accommodation while wearing their turbans. On May 15, 2006 Judge White spoke with the Coalition’s Legal Director to explain the court’s safety concerns. Judge White said that in the past gang members had hid weapons in their headdress to enter the courthouse.

After receiving another letter from the Coalition on May 23, 2006, the Judge called the Coalition’s Legal Director this past July to inform him that the courthouse would allow Sikhs to enter its courthouse. He instructed his chief of security to work with the Coalition to develop a written policy for court security personnel that would allow people who wear any religious headdress to enter the Will County courthouse. The Coalition will also to work with courthouse security personnel to provide information and training to them on Sikhs and Sikh practices so that they better interact with Sikhs entering the courthouse.

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