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Friday, August 24, 2007

Sikh pursues non-admittance to club

A religious civil rights organization has complained to the U.S. Justice Department after a member of the Sikh religion was denied entry into two Carlsbad Village nightclubs because he was wearing a turban.

Dave Bindra, 22, said the Ocean House restaurant and Coyote Bar & Grill would not let him in July 27 because they have rules against do-rags, beanies, bandannas and other head wear associated with street gangs.

He also said that when he explained to Ocean House manager Steve Town that his turban was not a do-rag, but a religious expression that he never removes in public, Town said, “ 'Beanie, do-rag or turban, you still have a towel on your head and you're not going in.' ”

Town denies he made the “towel” remark and said Bindra and his friends were denied entry because they were being aggressive.

Bindra, a Los Angeles native and a student at Carlsbad's Gemological Institute of America, said after he was denied entry at Ocean House he went to the nearby Coyote Bar & Grill, which did the same, so he asked for the manager's name and phone number and decided to call it a night.

Coyote general manager Aaron Williams said, “It had nothing to do with attacking his religion. We have a no-hat, no head wear policy when we have a DJ.”

Told that Sikhs wear a turban as an expression of their faith, Williams said, “I'm not judging anyone for their religion. Anybody can come in here and say, 'I'm wearing this because it's my religion.' ”

Bindra said after the Coyote refusal, three female friends had gone back to the Ocean House, which is in the same shopping center as Coyote, and demanded to see the manager.

At that point, Town and Bindra agree, things spun out of control.

“He was with three females who were going ballistic,” Town said, and added Bindra threatened his employees physically and used profanities.

“I said, 'We're not going to let you in because you're attacking us,' ” Town said.

Bindra said his friends were yelling profanities, but he did not.

“I did not get aggressive,” Bindra said. “I didn't want to give a bad name to Sikhs by reacting aggressively.”

Bindra said he was not wearing a traditional peaked turban, but a patka, which uses less material and is more skull-tight. He said he also has a full beard, in observance of his Sikh religion.

Town said Bindra's head wear did not look like a typical turban, and bouncers at the club told Bindra that he would be allowed into the club, but every club employee would question him because of the strict rules against head wear.

Bindra said, however, that he saw the club admit patrons wearing baseball hats, and didn't understand why a rule against do-rags applied to him.

The Sikh religion is one of world's newer faiths, having been founded about 500 years ago in Punjab, said Rajbir Singh Datta, a spokesman for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Datta said incidents of discrimination against Sikhs have increased since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

He called the turban “the uniform of the Sikh religion,” and compared it to a Jewish yarmulke.

Datta said his organization has contacted the Community Relations Service of the U.S. Justice Department, which mediates in instances of racial and ethnic discrimination.

If the restaurants did deny Bindra service because he wore a turban, he would have a strong claim against them, said David Steinberg, a professor of civil rights law at San Diego's Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

Steinberg said the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly prohibits discrimination in “public accommodations” – such as stores, hotels and restaurants – based upon race or religion.

“The reason this person can't come into the restaurant, unlike a hatless person, is because of his religious beliefs,” Steinberg said. “I don't see any justification for a no-hat policy that would outweigh the very legitimate rights of the man to practice his religion.” [Link]

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