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Saturday, September 01, 2007

U.S. Security official aims for 'workable solution' with Sikhs

Transportation Security Administration head Kip Hawley wants to make things right with members of the Sikh community who are angry about being asked to unwrap their turbans or undergo "patdowns" before being allowed to board airplanes.

Hawley contacted the New York-based Sikh Coalition on Thursday night to say he wants to find a "workable solution" to the community's concern that it is being unfairly targeted as a result of an Aug. 4 directive calling for scrutiny of head coverings that might hide explosives, from turbans to bowlers to baseball caps. The TSA has also called Muslim groups who fear the policy may single out Muslim women who wear hijab.

The TSA denies that turban pat-downs or removals are mandatory, or that the agency is engaging in religious or ethnic profiling. But members of the Sikh community say that since the policy went into effect, they are being stopped every time they go through an airport. As part of their religious practice, Sikhs are required to wear turbans.

"Administrator Hawley sent us an e-mail yesterday indicating his desire to work with us to find a resolution and explicitly leaving open the possibility of changing the policy," Neha Singh of the Sikh civil rights organization said Friday.

TSA spokeswoman Amy Kudwa confirmed the conversation, and said the agency is planning additional cultural awareness training for its 43,000 officers and, also, continued "dialogue" with the Sikh community.

A conference call between TSA officials and Sikh representatives is slated for next Thursday to discuss the new policy. Singh said that Hawley indicated TSA is open to suggestions on how to meet security needs in a "respectful, non-intrusive fashion." She said the coalition welcomed his approach as "a positive step forward." [Link]

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