A 19-year-old Sikh man was told he would have to shave off his beard to qualify for the Yuba City Police Department's cadet program, a national Sikh rights group said Wednesday.
Police Chief Richard Doscher differed somewhat with the version of events as put forth by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or SALDEF.
Nothing in department rules disqualifies a Sikh with a beard and turban - and even with a ceremonial kirpan, or dagger - from becoming an officer, as long as the kirpan is worn under the uniform, said Doscher.
A turban the same color as the uniform would be acceptable, the police chief said.
SALDEF said the applicant, Harvir Singh Uppal, was told by Officer Kim Slade, director of the cadet program, that “though the turban was acceptable, the beard does not conform to the uniform standards of the Police Department and it would have to be shaved off.”
Doscher said SALDEF's complaint arose from a misunderstanding between Uppal and Slade. He said it was unclear if Uppal was even wearing a beard at the time.
Uppal, a Yuba College student, told the Appeal-Democrat late Wednesday that he had a full beard and wore a turban during an interview last fall at the Police Department.
According to Doscher, Slade asked Uppal if he intended to wear a beard. Uppal then asked if the beard would disqualify him from the program but did not respond to letters and phone calls inquiring whether he was still interested in being a cadet, said Doscher.
Uppal said Slade told him by phone about a week after the interview that the beard was unacceptable.
Uppal did not give a religious reason during the interview for having a beard. The subject of Uppal's Sikh religion did not come up, Doscher said.
SALDEF said that, after Doscher and Mayor John Miller were informed of “the discriminatory nature of this policy,” Doscher wrote a letter of apology to SALDEF and reaffirmed the department's policy of religious diversity. [Link]
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