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Monday, September 17, 2007

Chairs of Congressional Committees Say No to Mandatory Turban Screening Policy in 2nd TSA Letter in One Week

At the request of the Sikh Coalition, key Congressional Committee Chairs with oversight power over the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) released a joint letter today expressing deep concern with its new turban screening policy. The letter, addressed to TSA Administrator Kip Hawley and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, calls for screening procedures that preserve both religious freedom and security.

This is the second letter to the TSA from Congressional leadership in a week. Last week Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), also at the urging of the Sikh Coalition, wrote to the TSA expressing concern with the policy.

Today's letter, initiated by Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), was signed by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee; Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Chair of the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection; and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), Civil Rights Taskforce Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

“We shouldn’t encroach upon freedom in order to protect freedom,” said Congressman Mike Honda. “Turbans are an intimate part of Sikh religious identity. We would not order a western woman to bare her chest in public, so in the same manner we need to balance civil liberties with security concerns.”

The Sikh Coalition has been working tirelessly with members of Congress to ensure they are up to date on the Sikh community’s concerns about the new policy. “We are all Americans, and want to protect the United States. But at the same time we need to balance security with a measure of respect for those articles of faith that we consider sacred and intimate,” said Neha Singh, advocacy director at the Coalition, America's largest Sikh civil rights organization.

The joint letter urges the TSA to work directly with the Sikh American community to resolve its concerns. It also expresses concern that the new TSA policy will inevitably lead to religious profiling.

Representative Honda also pledged to speak directly with the TSA to express the Sikh communities concerns. “One of the biggest failures in the war on terror has been to win hearts and minds,” Honda said. “But at the same time I know the men and women of TSA are professionals who believe in their mission, and because of this I am confident we can reach an outcome that is both respectful and responsible. I am looking forward to my conversations with them.”

The Sikh Coalition commends Congressman Honda and his colleagues for their leadership on this issue of deep concern to the Sikh community. The Coalition also thanks Pritpal Singh, convener of the American Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee for work with Congressman Honda's office to initiate the letter. [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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