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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sikhs Feel New TSA Hat Check Is Degrading

Serious concerns on Wednesday that airport security screeners are profiling a religious group.

The controversy stems from a hat and head-wear checking policy, in effect at BWI Marshall and airports nationwide.

Mike Hellgrenreports, it has outraged those whose beliefs require them to wear turbans.

An incident at BWI Marshall Airport sparked a debate over whether a new security screening procedure is disrespectful to thousands of Sikh's living in Maryland.

At their discretion, screeners recently began patting down, even asking passengers to remove anything over their heads, looking for weapons.

But for members of the Sikh religion, the turban is sacred, never taken off in public.

"It's not only an insult. It's like you are degrading me and my religion," said Jaswant Bhillon, a Sikh.

When a screener at BWI Marshall asked to pat down Prabhjit Singh's turban, his complaints erupted into nationwide controversy.

"What I had to go through was not only humiliating, but a demeaning situation to get onto this flight," said Singh.

Transportation Security Administration spokesperson said, passengers can wear head coverings, religious or otherwise but must know they are subject to additional screenings.

Because of the controversy, they will now allow Sikh's to remove their turbans in a private area.

"We've always been attentive to anybody having loose fitting clothes, where they can hide something, any kind of head gear," said Ed Gomez, TSA spokesman.

"It can be anything from a baseball cap to a western hat."

Sikhs say they have faced profiling since the 911 attacks, and question whether someone wearing a baseball cap would get the same scrutiny.

"I don't know if it is a direct order to profile," said Harsimran Kaur, National Sikh Coalition.

"I know the end result has been profiling, and I don't think the the TSA cares."

The TSA denied those allegations.

The TSA said all security screeners will undergo additional cultural awareness training. [Link]

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