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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dallas County changes policy to settle turban case

Dallas County has revised its security-screening procedures to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of a Sikh man who was ordered out of a courtroom for refusing to remove his turban, a civil rights group said yesterday.

The new policy announced by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Texas calls for security personnel at all county buildings to allow people wearing religious head coverings or other religious garments to walk through a metal detector without removing the item. If the detector beeps, security personnel will use a hand-held detector or conduct a private search.

The policy was developed by the county based on models provided by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The new led to the dismissal last week of a case brought by the ACLU on behalf of Amardeep Singh.

According to the suit filed last year, Singh was ordered out of a Justice of the Peace courtroom under threat of arrest in June 2006. Singh had gone to defend himself from a traffic ticket when he was told by court personnel and Judge Albert Bernard Cercone to remove his "hat." When Singh tried to explain that wearing a turban is a required religious practice for members of the Sikh faith, the judge and court officials refused to hear his explanation.

Sikhs compare the turban to yarmulkes worn by many Orthodox Jews and hijabs worn by many Muslim women and say removing it is humiliating. There are an estimated 500,000 Sikhs in the U.S., according to their legal defense group.

"The Constitution protects the right of Mr. Singh and every citizen to access their government without compromising their religious beliefs," said Lisa Graybill, legal director of the ACLU Foundation of Texas. "By applying this new policy, the county and Judge Cercone will help ensure that right is respected in Dallas County."

Last year, officials in Lawrenceville, Ga. revised their policy after a Sikh man was kept from entering the court because of his turban, according to documents in the lawsuit.

A federal guideline also revised last year allows air passengers to keep on headwear such as turbans at screening checkpoints. It gives airport screeners the option to pat down headwear at the metal detector if a passenger does not want to remove it for personal reasons. [Link]

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