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Friday, January 25, 2008

U.S. appeals court reinstates doctor’s lawsuit against Biloxi VA Center

A federal appeals court has reinstated an employment discrimination lawsuit brought by a doctor who claimed he was fired from his job at the Veterans Administration hospital in Biloxi because he is Muslim.

Dr. Khaled Rikabi sued the VA shortly after he was fired in 2003. Rikabi is originally from Lebanon and became a U.S. citizen in February 2002. He is a physician specializing in infectious disease.

Rikabi began working at the VA Center on Aug. 18, 1996. By the time he was fired in 2003, Rikabi claimed his responsibilities had been increased and his positive job performance ratings also climbed.

Rikabi said co-worker and administration attitudes began to change toward him after the 9-11 attacks. He said he was fired in March 2003 after what he was told was a reorganization of the department where he worked, according to court documents.

However, Rikabi continued to provide infectious disease consultations at the VA Center and retained his privileges at the center.

When the VA Center advertised his old job, Rikabi filed a complaint with the center’s Equal Employment Opportunity office, saying he was discriminated against on the basis of religion and national origin. It was shortly after he filed the complaint that Rikabi contended in court documents that his consultations and privileges at the center were cut off.

Rikabi sued in 2005 in federal court alleging wrongful termination, hostile work environment and retaliation claims.

U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. dismissed the lawsuit in 2006, saying Rikabi failed to prove any discrimination.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday in ordering the lawsuit reinstated said there was evidence to support Rikabi’s allegations that he was discriminated against because of his religion and nationality. [Link]

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Bangle case can go to court, judge rules

But Sikh pupil at centre of row must stay off school during proceedings

A judge ruled this week that claims of discrimination brought against a school by a 14-year-old Sikh pupil should be heard at the High Court.

But it was also decided that Sarika Watkins-Singh should not be allowed to return to Aberdare Girls’ School in Rhondda Cynon Taf during any legal proceedings, a blow to London-based human rights group Liberty which has filed the challenge.

The legal battle, expected to be heard within the next two weeks, follows the exclusion of Miss Watkins-Singh by her school’s governing body last November.

It took the disciplinary action after Miss Watkins-Singh refused to remove a steel bangle, called a Kara, one of the five Ks in Sikh religion. The governors decided it was against the school’s code of conduct, which only allows a wrist-watch and a single pair of stud earrings as part of the uniform.

However, Liberty claims the decision is illegal and in breach of race relations as well as human rights laws. The group also argues that it contravenes a 25-year-old Law Lords decision to allow Sikh children to wear items representing their faith – including turbans.

Anna Fairclough, Liberty’s legal officer, said she was pleased the case was going ahead but disappointed that its additional request for Miss Watkins-Singh to return to the school was rejected. The group is set to appeal against the decision.

“Nothing less than our traditions of religious freedom and racial tolerance are on trial here,” she said.

“Individuals from any religion who wish to modestly express their faith should not be denied a proper education, as Miss Singh has.”

Meanwhile, new guidance issued by the Assembly government in response to the high-profile case, says excluding pupils for breaking school uniform rules should only become an option as a “last resort”. [Link]

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Historic deal to lift headscarf ban

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) have reached an agreement to lift the ban on the headscarf on university campuses, party officials said yesterday.

The parties have decided to amend Articles 10 and 42 of the Constitution to remove the ban. Negotiations on more technical details about the amendments will continue between the parties. After these negotiations are completed, the leaders of both parties will hold a press conference to announce the text they have agreed upon. [Link]

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Floral Park man charged in hate attack against Sikh

A Floral Park man is facing hate crime charges after he allegedly punched a Sikh man in the face and broke his jaw before shouting racial slurs outside the man's temple, Queens DA Richard Brown said.

David C. Wood, 36..., allegedly told Chadha Jabeet "Arab, go back to your country" when Shabeet was about to enter a Sikh Temple ... in New Hyde Park Jan. 14, Brown said.

Wood then allegedly told Jabeet, 63, "you don't listen" and punched him in the face, the DA said. Jabeet's nose and jaw were broken in the attack.

On Sunday night the congregation of the temple, members of Queens' Sikh community and civic leaders held a candlelight vigil to protest the ignorance that fed into the attack on Jabeet, which attendees said was sparked by the Sikh man's choice of a parking spot.

One of the speakers, Rajinder Singh Khalsa, was a victim of a bias attack in Richmond Hill in 2004, when he was beaten and left unconscious at the corner of Lefferts Boulevard and 101st Avenue.

"My 10th guru said we all have the right to life, liberty and to seek happiness, the same as in the American Constitution," he said. "Hate has no place in humanity, no place in American culture."

Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world, with a following of about 20 million people, but ignorance persists about this monotheistic faith whose roots can be traced back to the northern Indian state of Punjab. The men wear beards and must wear a turban, according to the tenets of the faith. Especially after Sept. 11, 2001, Sikhs throughout the country were often attacked because of their turbans, which some people mistook for a Taliban headdress.

"Sikhs are targeted because of our appearance. There's a lot of ignorance, anger and hate," said Jaspreet Singh, a staff attorney for United Sikhs.

Hardayal Singh, director for North America of United Sikhs, said the way to help Jabeet now is to support him, attend the court proceedings, make Sikhs a visible presence so that they gain acceptance.

"[He] could've been my father, my brother, my uncle. This was a 63-year-old man bludgeoned outside this temple by a young man. We need to show who we are, bring [people] into our temples," Singh said.

Wood faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. He was arraigned Jan. 16 before Queens Criminal Court Judge Gene Lopez on charges of assault as a hate crime, assault and aggravated harassment, Brown said.

"Crimes motivated by bias Ð particularly those involving violence Ð will never be tolerated in this county," the DA said in a statement. "When they do regrettably occur, they will be vigorously prosecuted and those involved will be severely punished."

Brown said Jabeet, who is on a liquid diet due to his injuries, will need surgery on his nose and will have a medical consultation on what to do about his jaw after the swelling goes down. [Link]

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New TSA policy still allows racial profiling of Sikhs

It is humiliating and demeaning. It is like being strip-searched.

That is how some Sikhs describe airport security patting down their turbans or telling them to remove the sacred headgear.

The Transportation Security Administration and the Sikh Coalition worked together to create a new TSA policy that went into effect last October in response to 32 civil rights violation complaints filed by the coalition last summer. Despite the new policy giving Sikhs more options in searches, the coalition has received 78 complaints of civil rights violations since then, raising questions about the effectiveness of the new policy’s implementation.

“There is still a lot of racial profiling going on,” said Neha Singh, advocacy director and staff attorney for the Sikh Coalition in New York. “We are concerned with how the new policy is being implemented in different airports.”

Under the new policy, Sikhs do not necessarily have to remove their turbans, and they have the option to conduct the pat-down themselves.

Though the new policy is better for Sikhs, Neha Singh said, its implementation is far from perfect. A few of the 78 complaints filed since October were egregious examples of discrimination, she said, but most of them were claims of mandatory turban checks.

“There seems to be confusion among the TSA workers,” Singh said. “It seems the waters have been muddied because the policy has changed several times.”

Most of the new complaints will be bundled into a quarterly report and given to the TSA, Singh said. The goal is for more civil rights advocacy and better implementation of the policy.

The TSA Office of Civil Rights was unavailable for comment.

Some Sikhs, such as Prabhjit Singh, just want the random search to be random.
Prabhjit Singh, 27, of Germantown, Md., travels extensively for his work as a motivational speaker for real estate agencies. He is also one of the original 32 complainants from last summer.

On a trip from Baltimore to Alabama in August, he passed through the metal detector without problem but was told that he was subject to a mandatory pat-down of his turban, according to the official complaint. When he informed the TSA workers that his rights were being violated, they became hostile and told him that he would not be traveling that day.

Prabhjit Singh eventually submitted to the pat-down and was allowed to travel but not before being yelled at more by the TSA workers, he said.

“I just remember looking around on the plane,” he said, “and thinking how unfair. No one else had to go through what I just went through.”

When he traveled under the new policy, in December, Prabhjit Singh again passed through the metal detector without problem but was asked to step to the side. He was allowed to pat down his own turban but believes he still was a victim of ethnic profiling.

“Every time I travel,” Prabhjit Singh said. “I know that I’m going to be searched, which would be fine if it was really random.”[Link]

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High Court to rule on bangle ban

The case of a 14-year-old Sikh girl excluded from school for wearing a religious bangle will be heard in the High Court.

Sarika Singh, a pupil at Aberdare Girls' School, South Wales, has not attended school since being told she cannot wear her bracelet, known as a kara.

Human rights group Liberty claims the school has breached race relations and human rights laws, and has now won the right to put the matter before the High Court. The case is not expected to be heard for several months.

Ann Fairclough, Liberty's legal officer who is representing the Singhs, said: "Nothing less than our traditions of religious freedom and racial tolerance are on trial in this case.

"Individuals from any religion who wish to modestly express their faith should not be denied a proper education as Ms Singh has."

Liberty claims the school is also breaching a 25-year-old Law Lords' decision allowing Sikhs to wear items such as turbans to school.

An interim hearing will be held in the next two weeks to decide whether Sarika, the only Sikh at her school, can return to classroom while the case is continuing. She had been taught in isolation at the school for two months, and has been excluded since the beginning of November.

The school has banned students from wearing any jewellery other than plain ear studs and wrist watches. [Link]

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What's in a name?

For new immigrants to Britain, adapting to the country isn't just about learning the language or getting used to the rain - it's increasingly about changing their names.

More than 300,000 migrants have moved to the United Kingdom in recent years, some with exotic names that are 13 letters long, making the desire for something simpler to pronounce and write on forms commonplace.

So commonplace in fact that UK Deed Poll Service, a company which allows people to legally change their name for as little as $70, has seen a huge surge in business - 40,000 name changes were made last year, up 20% from 2006.

The marketplace has even become competitive, with other companies muscling in on the name-change industry.

"We've got a big influx of migrants coming into this country, particularly from Eastern Europe," said Janet Chadwick, director of The Name Change Company, which says it has seen business boom in the past two years.

"We've seen quite a lot of name changes of people trying to anglicise their name because they have names which are very unpronounceable to the British tongue."

And when it comes to job applications, some believe that an unpronounceable name will work against them, Chadwick said.

Common changes include the Polish Aleksander to Alexander and Marta to Martha.

Immigrants from Asia and the Middle East have also picked up the trend, with Guang sometimes becoming Edward, Mohammed Michael and Karim Kevin.

Mike Barratt, the chief executive of UK Deed Poll Service, says the trend took off after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, when people with Muslim names began changing them to avoid discrimination.

"People have been to the States and have had problems getting in because of immigration - because they had an Arabic sounding name," he said. [Link]

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Muslim woman doubles her claim against hair salon

A Muslim woman suing a salon owner for refusing her a hairdressing job because of her headscarf has more than doubled her claim for damages, after allegedly receiving hate mail. [Link]

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Call off bangle ban, Clwyd urges

ANN Clwyd MP has called on the governors of Aberdare Girls School to back down in a row about a Sikh girl wearing a bangle.

Sarika Singh, 14, has been excluded for wearing a kara, a silver bracelet, in line with her faith. The schools say it contravenes their strict no jewellery policy. She is due to challenge the decision in the High Court.

Mrs Clwyd, MP for the Cynon Valley, is urging governors to pull out of potentially expensive legal action, claiming they are unlikely to win.

She said: “There are legal precedents establishing a Sikh pupil’s right to wear those items that are essential to their religion. Boys, for example, have been allowed to continue to wear turbans.” [Link]

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Two held over acid attack

Detectives probing an acid attack which partially blinded a Leeds father have arrested two men.

Officers investigating the attack on 50-year-old Amarjit Singh Uppal swooped on addresses in north east Leeds and arrested two men aged 48 and 51.

The men were detained on suspicion of assault and were taken to an unnamed police station for questioning .

Mr Uppal was attacked at 8.30pm on April 3 as he returned from evening prayers at the Sikh temple in Chapeltown Road, Leeds, where he was secretary.

Moments before the attack, Mr Uppal had seen a man walking up Carr Manor Road, Moortown, Leeds appa
rently stirring something in a silver foil tray. The man stopped to allow Mr Uppal to pull his car into his house drive, but then hurled the contents of the tray into his eyes.

Instantly Mr Uppal's vision became completely blurred. He ran inside his house and shouted to his wife to call an ambulance while he tried to wash his eyes.

He was rushed to St James's Hospital where his eyes were washed but his vision did not improve.

At the time Mr Uppal told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "My sight did not get better. I was in a state of shock and disbelief. The damage to my eyes is quite severe."

He spent three days in hospital and was warned his sight might never return.

Samples of the solution used to blind Mr Uppal were sent for scientific examination at a London laboratory by the police as they hunted his attacker and probed the reasons behind the attack. [Link]

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Head Scarf Debate Intensifies in Turkey

An angry debate over a ban on the Islamic head scarf, which is strictly forbidden in public buildings in Turkey, spilled into view this week, with the country’s secular elite vehemently opposing any loosening of the restriction.

The head scarf ban is one of the most emotionally charged issues in Turkey today. This week’s back-and-forth between politicians from two different classes of society — a rising group of observant politicians and a secular elite that has long ruled the country — signals a larger battle to come as the two groups struggle for control of the Turkish state.

On Friday, one of Turkey’s highest courts, the Council of State, issued a stern warning on its Web site about loosening the restriction in universities, saying that allowing head scarves in universities would mean their use could spread to other public buildings, “ultimately hurting peace in society.” Turkey’s judiciary, one of the principal parts of the state from which the secular elite derives its power, banned head scarves in universities in the late 1980s. [Link]

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

DOJ settles religious liberty case

The New York correctional system has agreed to accommodate employee religious beliefs after a Muslim worker was told he could no longer wear a prayer cap.

The state must keep in place a process to review employee religious accommodation requests, the U.S. Justice Department said Friday.

The department said the state's Department of Correctional Services agreed to incorporate the process under terms of a consent decree approved by a federal judge in New York. The decree settled a Justice Department lawsuit alleging the correctional system failed to accommodate the religious practices of correctional officers, DOJ officials said in a news release.

The suit, filed in March 2007, arose out of a case in which a Muslim correctional worker for years was permitted to wear a prayer cap, but in 2005 was told he must remove it while at work. The suit alleged DOCS had no policy to review requests for reasonable accommodation of religious practices as required by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"Federal law prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of religion, and requires reasonable accommodation of employees' religious practices," said Michael Garcia, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. "We are pleased that DOCS has agreed to give fair consideration to its uniformed officers' requests for such accommodations." [Link]

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NFHS Responds to Maryland Track Situation

Last Saturday, Juashuanna Kelly, a runner on the girls track team at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., elected not to compete in the Montgomery Invitational indoor track and field meet in Maryland after meet officials advised her that she would need to replace her undergarment because it violated track and field playing rules published by the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS).

The NFHS issues the following statement regarding this incident:

"The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the national leadership organization for high school sports and fine arts activities, writes playing rules in 17 sports for boys and girls competition at the high school level, including track and field.

"Rule 4-3-1-d of the NFHS Track and Field and Cross Country Rules Book states that 'Any visible garment(s) worn underneath the uniform top or bottom shall be a single, solid color and unadorned except for 1) a single school name or insignia no more than 2¼ square inches with no dimension more than 2¼ inches and 2) a single, visible manufacturer's logo as per NFHS rules.'

"Using preventive officiating, meet officials at the Montgomery Invitational checked uniforms prior to the events to make sure they complied with NFHS uniform rules. Since Kelly's one-piece undergarment was multi-colored (blue, orange, white), it was in violation of the uniform rules. The meet officials did not disqualify Kelly; they informed her she would have to replace the multi-colored undergarment with a single-colored undergarment, an option which she declined and, thus, did not compete.

"The head covering, which was a part of Kelly's one-piece undergarment, nor the length of the undergarment were in violation of NFHS rules. She could have worn the same style of undergarment, with a head covering, as long as the undergarment was one color throughout the entire piece of clothing. The NFHS track uniform rule was put in place for consistency across the board and for ease in identifying runners at the finish line. Multi-colored undergarments cause greater identification problems for track officials.

"The track uniform is a point of emphasis by the NFHS this year in an effort to have more consistent and widespread enforcement of the rule. Because of her Muslim faith, there were reports that her uniform undergarment was ruled unacceptable on religious grounds. While Kelly's faith requires her to cover all parts of the body except her hands and face, a single-colored undergarment with a hood would have been acceptable both from an NFHS rules standpoint as well as meeting the requirements of her Muslim faith. [Link]

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Charged with hate crime for Sikh attack

A Queens man has been charged with a hate crime for breaking the nose and jaw of a Sikh worshiper.

David Wood, 36, allegedly approached Chadha Bajeet on Monday night screaming, "Arab, go back to your country," as the 63-year-old man parked his car outside a Sikh temple in New Hyde Park.

Wood was arraigned Tuesday night and is being held on $10,000 bail. He is charged with second-degree assault as a hate crime, second and third degree assault and second-degree aggravated harassment. [Link]

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Point about kirpans

Blunt religious object about as dangerous as a crucifix

A guy goes to court to testify in a trial.

He gets stopped at security because he's a Sikh carrying a kirpan.

The religious dagger carried by Sikhs is one of the tenets of their faith.

Generally, kirpans are little and dull.

If you wanted to take a life with it, you'd probably be better off with a spoon.

In our security-mad world -- thanks, Osama -- we've become excessively paranoid, which is one of the things 9/11 was supposed to accomplish.

The Sikh in question, Tejinder Singh Sidhu, asked if a sheriff could escort him to and from court and was refused, so he walked without testifying.

Sidhu's got a valid point -- which is something a kirpan doesn't.

You can spend a lot of time in newspaper archives and on the Internet and not find a single incident of a Sikh using a kirpan to stab somebody. [Link]

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sikhs hold peace march to protest against French turban ban

By staff writers
19 Jan 2008
Sikhs from across the world will be joining in moral and practical support of a peace march in New Delhi, India, today to protest against a French secularity law that bans the wearing of sacred turbans in schools and other work places throughout the country.
The one kilometre march from Gurudwara Bangla Sahib to Jantar Mantar, prefiguring the arrival of the controversial French president next week, will be followed by a candle light vigil.
The new law in France prohibits all “ostensible” religious articles - including the Sikh turban, the Muslim hijab, the Jewish Kippa and Christian crosses in public schools in France.
For Sikhs, the turban is one of five key symbols of their faith. For those who wear it, it is not just a head-dress but an extension of who they are as a person. It is also a willingly accepted obligation in a way that a cross, for example, is not for Christians.
Eastern Orthodox Christians wear a cross which is consecrated for them at the change of name they have through baptism, but it is usually worn under the clothing, for example.
Civil rights campaigners say that the French law is unacceptably prohibitive, and an example of "eliminative secularism" - a version of secularity which is not simply about equal treatment and the denial of privilege to any one group, religious or non-religious, but a deliberate attempt to deny any visibility to religion in public life.
The march is taking place a week ahead of French President Sarkozy’s arrival as chief guest at the 58th Indian Republic Day celebrations.
Six Sikh schoolchildren and two adults have unsuccessfully turned to the French courts for redress. They are now appealing their cases to the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
United Sikhs, a body which brings together Sikh people from the India, the USA, Canada, Britain, Ireland and elsewhere, will file for third party intervention in these cases in order to reinforce the importance of the turban to Sikhs.
The turban, they point out, poses no security threat as a Sikh is recognizable only with and because of the turban and not without it. Further it does not interfere with identification in today’s age of biometric photos.
A number of national and international Sikh organizations are participating in the march.celebration. Over 2,000 Sikh school pupils and 1,000 Sikh college students will join in the candle light vigil.
Delegates from Dharmik Ekta Mission, Shromani Akali Dal (Panthic), Shromani Akali Dal Delhi, and the International Sikh Confederation are expected to take part in the nonviolent protest.
United Sikhs aims to "recognise the human race as one" and to work with minority and underprivileged communities for empowerment, spiritual development, education and understanding.

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/6614

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

When the Rules Run Up Against Faith

Prep Athlete Wearing Muslim Clothing Disqualified From Track Meet

Juashaunna Kelly, a Theodore Roosevelt High School senior who has the fastest mile and two-mile times of any girls' runner in the District this winter, was disqualified from Saturday's Montgomery Invitational indoor track and field meet after officials said her Muslim clothing violated national competition rules.

Kelly was wearing the same uniform she has worn for the past three seasons while running for Theodore Roosevelt's cross-country and track teams: a custom-made, one-piece blue and orange unitard that covers her head, arms, torso and legs. On top of the unitard, Kelly wore the same orange and blue T-shirt and shorts as her teammates.

The outfit allows her to compete while complying with her Muslim faith, which forbids displaying any skin other than her face and hands.

As one of the other heats was held, two meet officials signaled to Kelly and asked her about her uniform. Meet director Tom Rogers said Kelly's uniform violated rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which sanctioned the event, by not being "a single-solid color and unadorned, except for a single school name or insignia no more than 2 1/4 inches." [Link]

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Sikhs to raise turban ban issue with Sarkozy

The visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to India is not going to a smooth affair as the Sikh community is all set to raise the issue of banning turbans in French schools.

Almost three years after conspicuous religious symbols were banned in schools in France, the ban on turbans is being raised once again in Punjab.

The Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandhak Committee (SGPC) has written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to raise the matter with Sarkozy when he arrives in New Delhi later this month.

"We are hopeful they'll give us the time to discuss it," SGPC Secretary Harbeant Singh says.

Sikhs are agitated over the issue and want it to be resolved soon.

"A Sikh is recognized by his turban only," Sukhwinder Singh says.

Sikh groups believe Manmohan Singh is sensitive to their concerns and would surely take up the matter with Sarkozy, who'll be chief guest at the Republic Day parade this year. They are trying for a meeting with the French President himself.

"We are pressing the French Government to restore the fundamental rights of Sikhs living in France," Kanwar Pal Singh, General Secretary of Dal Khalsa, says.

Whether or not they succeed in meeting the French President, Sarkozy surely will take back memories of lots of turbans from India. [Link]

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Kirpan ban irks Sikh

Banned from entering courthouse wearing ceremonial dagger

Banned from entering the Calgary courthouse wearing a Sikh ceremonial dagger, Tejinder Singh Sidhu is calling on the province to adopt a court-security policy that respects religious freedoms and traditions.

The 25-year-old arrived at court Monday to testify as a Crown witness to a fatal crash.

When he reached the metal detector, a court sheriff told him he had to remove his three-inch long kirpan -- one of five articles of faith baptized Sikhs wear at all times.

Sidhu said he hasn't taken off his kirpan since he received it at his baptism as a child.

"It just seems very derogatory... and it's seen as being very offensive," he said.

"This is something that we keep on us at all times ... I bathe with it, I sleep with it."

After Sidhu's suggestion a sheriff to escort him to and from the courtroom was rejected, he left without testifying....

Andy Weiler, spokesman for the Alberta solicitor general, said the sheriff was following policy.

"Our policy clearly states that kirpans are an unauthorized item that are not permitted in the courthouse," he said. [Link]

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Iranian-born academic accuses La Salle of discrimination

An Iranian-born academic charges that La Salle University illegally denied him promotions and that an official accused him of starting a "one-man jihad" over the issue.

Madjid Tavana's discrimination suit against the Catholic college in Philadelphia went to trial this week after a federal judge found enough evidence to send the case to a jury.

Tavana, who is Muslim, says he was denied a promotion and higher pay because of religious and ethnic bias that started after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

La Salle denies the charges.

Tavana, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Voorhees, N.J., joined the faculty as a business instructor in 1984. He rose through the ranks to become a tenured professor and then chair of the management department in 1993; he was reappointed to the four-year post in 1997 and again in May 2001.

But shortly after the attacks, former business school dean Gregory Bruce told Tavana that the provost did not want anyone in the job for 12 years and asked him to step down, according to the suit.

The suit names five other faculty members , all American-born, non-Muslim males , who have allegedly held department chairmanships for more than 12 years.

Tavana refused to step down, but says he was not reappointed in 2005 despite the recommendation of faculty. Tavana also alleges that he was passed over for the job of business school dean in 2005 and 2006.

In addition, Tavana charges that Bruce once asked him if an applicant of Indian descent was Muslim, and in conversation compared Tavana to an Iranian-born former faculty member who had tangled with a supervisor.

"Bruce stated to Tavana that 'All Iranians have a problem with authority.' Bruce further stated, 'Look what you did to the Shah,'" according to the suit.[Link]

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Rally supports Sikh pupil banned from school

Supporters of a 14-year-old Sikh girl who was excluded from school for wearing a religious bangle called for her to be allowed to return to classes today.

At a rally on the steps of the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff, demonstrators called for schools to be issued with new guidelines on uniforms.

A legal challenge has been filed at the High Court on behalf of Sarika Singh who was excluded last November for refusing to remove the bangle.

She spent the previous two months being taught in isolation at Aberdare Girls’ School, south Wales, after staff noticed her silver bracelet.

She and her supporters insists the bangle, known as a kara, should not be treated as jewellery [sic] because it is an important reminder for Sikhs to do good with their hands. [Link]

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Calgary man denied courthouse entry for wearing kirpan

A Sikh man says his Charter rights were violated when he was not allowed to take his ceremonial dagger into the Calgary courthouse.

Tejinder Sidhu, 25, had been summoned to court Monday by subpoena to testify as a witness to a fatal car accident.

Sidhu was stopped at the airport-style security screening, which greets all visitors to the Calgary Courts Centre that opened last fall. An Alberta sheriff told him he would have to leave his kirpan at security or he couldn't enter the building.

Baptized orthodox Sikh men carry the small ceremonial dagger under their clothes as a symbol of their religious beliefs.

Sidhu offered to be escorted in to testify if he could keep his kirpan, but that was rejected.

"I don't feel that I should be asked to remove it — especially being a witness to a case — I'm being basically denied my civil duty or my civil right … to testify in court," Sidhu told CBC News.

"So after basically debating for about five, 10 minutes, basically, I just left the courthouse and was unable to fulfil my civic right or my civic duty." [Link]

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Op-ed: Religious head scarf not such a good fit with police uniform

A UNIFORM serves a purpose: To be an easily recognizable symbol that unites and quickly distinguishes people with a specific role or function. It radiates authority and reduces the wearer's individuality so they are in line with - and accountable to - the organization as a whole.

So it can disturb the order of things when one group member chooses to change the uniform's look for themselves. Especially if a military or quasi-military organization like the Philadelphia Police Department is involved.

Kimberlie Webb is a police officer who is Muslim. She wants wear a "khimar," or traditional head scarf, while on duty. Webb says the scarf can be wrapped on her head in such a say that it would not jeopardize her safety, or be seen under her cap. In 2005, Webb sued the city in federal court, claiming discrimination. A U.S. District Court judge dismissed her case. Last week, she filed an appeal.

We commend her religious faith, but when people choose to take on jobs that have a high public-safety and public-interaction factor, like that of a police officer, they know going in what the requirements are. Our reaction has nothing to do with Webb's religious affiliation - but it shouldn't be part of a police uniform. And what happens when her cap comes off in the normal course of duty?

We'd have the same problem if a police officer who is Christian wanted to wear a crucifix pin behind her holster, or a Jewish officer wanted to wear a yarmulke under his cap. [Link]

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Muslim officer appeals ruling

Kimberlie Webb has been a Philadelphia police officer since 1995 and a follower of the Islamic faith for just as long.

But since 2003, the 35th District officer has been embroiled in a legal battle over her right to wear a khimar, a traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women, while in uniform.

Webb, 46, filed discrimination claims against the city with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2003 after the department suspended her for wearing the headdress while on duty.

The EEOC sided with her and in 2005, she sued the city in federal court, citing discrimination. But in June, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed her claims before trial after reviewing briefs from each side.

This week, two lawyers - Jeffrey Pollock and Seval Yildirim - filed appeals on her behalf, saying Webb never had her day in court.

Several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are now backing her, too.

"We want to reverse and remand the decision," said Pollock, an attorney for Fox Rothschild who is handling the case pro bono. "Kim should be treated equally."

Richard Feder, chief deputy city solicitor, said he hadn't received Webb's brief yesterday and couldn't comment.

However, in arguments, filed in court documents, the city has stated that the khimar is inconsistent with the uniform and various grooming requirements for officers and could cause them potential harm while on the job.

Webb converted to Islam in 1995, the same year she became a cop, but said she always removed the scarf before working her graveyard shift.

But in 2003, Webb said she saw Muslim male officers growing beards and decided that she could wear her headdress.

Wearing beards was in violation of the department's dress code until the policy was changed in 2002 following a ruling in federal court.

"I went three days in a row when they asked me to remove it," she said. "I refused, and they sent me home."

When she wore the khimar again, Webb said, her superiors threatened to fire her. [Link]

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Sikh man in 'vicious' racial assault

A 55-year-old Sikh was beaten with a metal pole in a racially motivated attack by four masked men on Christmas Day, police have revealed.

One of the men hit the victim on the head and knocked off his turban as he was walking through the Braunstone estate in Leicester.

The man was then struck with a metal pole and the others kicked him while he lay on the ground.

Officers have only recently been able to speak to the victim.

'Very distressed'

Investigating officer Pc Louise Rooke said: "The victim spent a week in hospital with a head injury and bruising to his body.

"This was a vicious attack and the victim is understandably very distressed by the incident. He told us that he had always lived peacefully on the estate but is frightened by what these men did to him."

All four wore balaclavas.

The first man was described as white, about 6ft 1in (1.85m) tall and slim. He was wearing a dark coat and trousers.

The victim described the second man as white, about 4ft 2in (1.27m) tall, chubby and muscular. He was wearing a short brown jacket with big buttons.

The others were a dark-skinned man, about 5ft 5in (1.65m) tall, wearing a knee-length black coat; and a white man, about the same height, who was wearing a black coat which came to just above the knee.

Police want to hear from anyone who saw the men or who can identify them. [Link]

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Religion topped race as motive in 2007 hate crimes

Drop in total reported cases may be due to fear, police say

The number of hateful acts identified by police dropped roughly 20 percent last year, but the county’s hate crimes coordinator said that some immigrant communities are not reporting crimes that would be considered hateful.

Montgomery County Police identified 42 hate crimes and incidents in 2007 with another ‘‘six or seven” acts determined inconclusive, said Dave Baker, hate crimes coordinator for county police.

Though that number is down from the recent average of roughly 55 per year, Baker cautioned against being overly encouraged.

‘‘I don’t think it’s a trend, and I don’t think it’s a significant deviation from the previous three to five years,” he said.

Much of his hesitation is because many more hate crimes are going unreported as some immigrant communities are not reporting crimes to police out of fear of deportation....

Muslims and Sikhs were also targeted last year. On Sept. 11, Gaithersburg resident and Muslim community activist Samira Hussein woke to find her tires slashed, an echo of a similar attack against her years earlier.

On Sept. 15, two elderly Sikh men were attacked in Burtonsville. Four teenagers from Silver Spring were charged, but the attack was ruled inconclusive as a hate crime because there was no direct evidence that the attack was motivated for religious reasons. [Link]

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Valarie Kaur -- Why Do We Fall?

It has been nearly a year since I wrote here last, and yet 2007 was my most public year yet. I traveled the country on a national film and speaking tour, living out of my suitcase, moving from city to city, encountering stories and people and ideas like never before. If writing is my primary way of understanding my experiences, why did I not write? I was asked over and over again, and now in this new year, when I'm returning to myself and the world, I feel I must come clean.

It begins with a story, as it always must.

On August 31, 2004, I stood on a sidewalk in New York City with a camera in hand, taping a protest at the Republican National Convention. I was there as a legal observer, taping in order to protect against police brutality. The police came in with great force and bloodied people up in the street. When they saw my lens, they arrested me too. The handcuffs cut the blood from my hands. When I asked for them to be loosened, an agitated lieutenant twisted my hands and arm, slicing my body in pain. He walked away to make an example out of me.


I was detained behind bars for 16 hours. My arm was wrapped in a cast in the emergency room upon release. I was one of more than a thousand arrested that day. (For more, click here for my full story and my op-ed in Salon.)

A few days later, I started graduate school at Harvard. Instead of seeking therapy, I threw myself into philosophy as a way to think about human cruelty. While books steadied my mind, they could not reach the trauma burned into my body.

For the most part, I ignored my injury when making Divided We Fall. By the time the film premiered and began touring, the injury worsened into a severe chronic pain condition and brought my body to a halt last year.

I could not lift a toothbrush, let alone write an e-mail. I could not sleep for the pain. In the night, I would cry for my arm to be sliced off. I had made it my cause to stop violence against others, yet it was so easy to do violence to myself. I liked to scream at my body. It was the only way to say this is not of me. I prayed for someone to fix me - heal me - save me.

I stopped writing, not just for the physical pain that cut through my right side, but because a part of me had died. It was the part of me that trusted in the universe and my own ability to accomplish anything I dreamt -- the part that dreamt of flying. My wings had been cut, and I had to come to terms with my own fragility. I had fallen into a life of pain and prepared a graveyard for my ambitions.
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I became a master at covering up my pain on stage. I held the mic and told stories and listened to people's lives. It wasn't that my smile wasn't real, but that I learned how to create two selves inside of me: the public self who spoke and shone, the private self penetrated in pain, stripped of voice. It is taxing to tear yourself in two and live both lives. Fortunately for me, it is also unsustainable.

I knew I had to move. I headed west until I hit the ocean and made a home there. This is where a circle of friends and healers put me back together. They did not take away my pain; they taught me how to own it. I learned how to sit inside my pain and still speak. I learned not to hide it like some shameful thing but to honor it. I learned how to treat my pain as a guide. And it has become my teacher. It is teaching me to love my body as I love others, to live balanced days, to recognize the pain that others hide. And each day, it takes me to the ocean and makes me listen.

On my last walk to the ocean, the setting sun burned the sky a blazing orange, as if someone had taken a match to the horizon.

A man sat with his guitar. "You just had to run to the edge of the world, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did," I said, astonished at his knowing.

Suddenly a fin appeared and disappeared in the water. Something inside me woke up. “It was nice talking to you.”

I was running before I knew I was running, the sand beneath my feet disappeared, and I leapt into the ocean to meet the dolphins. They were gone. I waited there, thick silvery water holding up my broken body. "Come back!" I cried out to them. "Come back to me! You are beautiful!" A beat.

And they came back.

Swimming swift and strong around me, their smooth backs silhouetted against the orange, I could see their eyes. And I was laughing and laughing and shrieking, ecstatic. My mouth moved before my mind:

“The universe loves me!”

And looking around there was no one, so I yelled again:

“The universe loves me!... And I am in love with the universe!”

Laughing at myself, I took in the silver water, orange sunset, dark heaving ocean, sparkling stars deepening into the blue dome, and for a moment felt myself held within the infinite.

“So you sent the dolphins as your messenger. To give me the message of your love."

Walking home soaking wet, I was alive.

There is an aspect of the universe that can kill you -- bind your hands, beat you down, bleed your heart.

But there's another aspect of the universe that is loving – it can redeem your pain with love. It depends on how you read it. The sea can drown you; the sea can return you to yourself. People are the same. I am the same. I have returned myself to myself.

We have this power inside us. (We are inside this power.)

So a new year begins. This year, unlike any other, I felt the earth turn and even wept when the clock struck midnight. It is a new beginning. And although we bring with us our past pain, I have come to see that pain itself can be the path to our new beginning.

We fall so that we can swim with the dolphins.

Thank you for reading. For an excellent review of my journey with Divided We Fall in 2007, check out our YEAR-IN-REVIEW.
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I’m using voice activated software to write again and will continue to blog here on my travels with the film and in life.
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And -- yes, I have a case against the city of New York.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

BA employee loses her case for discrimination

A British Airways employee has lost her case claiming religious discrimination over the airline's decision in 2006 to ban her from wearing a small cross on a necklace to work.

Nadia Eweida, 56, hit the headlines when she took BA to an employment tribunal claiming it effectively discriminated against Christians because they were not allowed to wear religious jewellery while Muslims were allowed to wear hijabs and Sikhs to wear bangles.

After a number of rows about religious clothing in 2006 – including the use of the veil after Jack Straw challenged Muslim constituents to show their faces during MPs' surgeries – BA backed down and changed its policy to allow all religious symbols to be worn.

But last night Ms Eweida said she had lost her discrimination case. "I'm very disappointed," she said. "The judge has given way for BA to have a victory on imposing their will on all their staff." [Link]

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Reward offer doubled in Richmond restaurant homicides

An anonymous friend doubled the reward offering this week for information that leads police to the killers of two Sikh restaurateurs shot last month in a mysterious attack at their Richmond business.

Ravinder Kalsi, 30, and his brother, 42-year-old Paramjit Kalsi, died a few minutes after closing Sahib Indian Restaurant the night of Dec. 27. Two men walked up to the door, knocked to attract Ravinder's attention and began shooting when he opened the door.

"The surveillance camera footage of the suspects (released last week) has generated a lot of calls and tips," Richmond police Detective Sgt. Mitch Peixoto said. "But so far, nothing has panned out."

The brothers ran the restaurant for five years, originally a sideline to their work renovating and selling residential properties. Police say they planned to sell the restaurant, but so far they can deduce no motive from the family finances.

Local police also have enlisted aid from FBI hate-crime investigators to probe the possibility of that motive.

The Kalsis lived together, raising money to send home to family in Punjab. Ravinder soon planned to marry in India, friends said.

The Richmond Police Department offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of their killers. The anonymous benefactor offers an additional $10,000, said Gurman Bal, a friend and former roommate.

A brother of the Kalsis arrived Monday from India to help facilitate transportation of the bodies, Bal added.

Police ask anyone with information about the Dec. 27 killings of Ravinder and Paramjit Kalsi at Sahib Indian Restaurant to call Detective Nicole Abetkov at 510-412-2087 or call the anonymous tip line at 510-232-TIPS.

Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or kfischer@bayareanewsgroup.com. [Link]

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Legal challenge for 'bangle' girl

A legal challenge has been filed in the High Court on behalf of a 14-year-old girl excluded from a Cynon Valley school for wearing a Sikh bangle.

Sarika Singh has been excluded from Aberdare Girls' School since 5 November and will not be attending when classes start back next week after Christmas.

Campaign group, Liberty, has made the challenge, saying the school had breached race relations laws.

The school bans all jewellery and has said their policy ensures equality.

After filling the challenge, Liberty said the school has also breached human rights laws.

It says it also breaches a decision made by the House of Lords which allows Sikh children to wear items representing their faith, including turbans to school.

Liberty wants Sarika to be allowed to attend normal lessons at the school while wearing the Kara, and for the school to amend its uniform policy to comply with the Race Relations Act.

Sarika was excluded from her school three times last term and was taught in isolation for two months before that step was taken.

School governors rejected her request to wear the bangle after a "significant period of research" examining the uniform policy and human rights legislation in detail.

The school's governing body must lodge its defence in the High Court by 11 January and then the court will consider the case during the following week.

Anna Fairclough, from Liberty, said: "Sarika Singh has suffered humiliating isolation and is being denied a proper education simply because she wears the Kara, a small bangle worn by virtually all Sikhs both in and out of school and work.

"It is astonishing that the school continues to exclude her despite almost universal condemnation and 25-year-old House of Lords precedent." United Sikhs, an international advocacy charity, will also apply to file a third party intervention.

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly Government has previously said school uniform policy was a matter for the governing body.

However, she said the government would shortly be issuing guidance on school uniform policy considering issues including health and safety as well as equality and discrimination.

More than 2,000 people have joined an online group in support of Sarika on the social networking site Facebook. [Link]

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Trial sought in imams' airport suit

Airport officials in Minneapolis and US Airways are seeking a jury trial for a lawsuit filed by five Muslim clerics who were removed from a plane.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission, which oversees Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and the airline are also seeking immunity for employees named in the suit, claiming they are protected by a "John Doe" law passed last year by the U.S. Congress that guards people acting in an official capacity to prevent terrorist attacks, The Washington Times reported Friday.

The civil rights suit was filed by Ahmed Shqeirat, Mohamed Ibrahim, Didmar Faja, Omar Shahin, Mahmoud Sulaiman and Marwan Sadeddin after the men were removed from a flight for suspicious behavior. The suit claims officials engaged in "intentional discrimination" when they removed the imams from the plane.

"We believe the police officers acted appropriately and that it is important that airports across the nation be able to take action when there is a reasonable belief that travelers could be threatened," said Patrick Hogan, MAC spokesman.

"In this case, there were travelers and flight crew members who raised concerns, and we worked with federal authorities who interviewed the imams," Hogan said. "We believe the process worked as it should to protect the traveling public." [Link]

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Officials probe fire on Islamic Center land

The burned-out home, blanketed with ash and lacking a roof, was intended for the new leader, or imam, of the Dalton Islamic Center. Nearby on the same property, workers have been laying the foundation for a new mosque.

On Christmas, a fire at 1:15 a.m. destroyed the unoccupied home. The fire department is investigating the "suspicious" blaze that gutted a home not even hooked up to electricity.

At the same time, the Whitfield County Sheriff's Department is investigating graffiti in the same house they believe was painted on the walls during the summer, officials said.

The graffiti was obscene and included the phrase "don't come in here," but it didn't refer to Muslims specifically.

"At this time, it's not being considered a hate crime," said sheriff's Maj. John Gibson. He added, "I'm sure that the ... victims of this crime feel that it is (a hate crime)."

Hammad El-Ameen, president of the Islamic Center, said he feels that Muslims are being targeted.

"When somebody burned our house down ... they're sending a message that they don't want us in the community," he said Wednesday.

The Islamic Center sought permission from the county in May 2005 to build a new mosque. At the time, this newspaper reported some residents opposed to the site said during a public hearing that the center was building a "terrorist hideout." [Link]

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

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Islamic Center Building Target Of Arsonist?

Is it a random act of violence or is the Islamic community in Dalton the target of a hate crime?

That's what investigators are trying to figure out after a fire destroys part of what will become a new place of worship for Muslims.

Early Christmas morning fire tears through a three-bedroom house that's on the Dug Gap Road site where the new Dalton Islamic Center is being built.

Hammad El-Ameen, President of the Dalton Islamic Center, said "it's devastating because it's a security factor, we're concerned for our families, our children. So we want to set a precedent right now and find out and prosecute who did this."

Whitfield County Fire Chief Carl Collins says the fire damage is concentrated inside what was the attic and spread from a back bedroom to the rest of the $100,000 building.

Even though Chief Collins says he has his suspicions this fire was deliberately set he says his investigators still haven't found any evidence, right now at least, that an accelerant was used, like gasoline or kerosene.

"We're still looking into some different things. It is suspicious in the fact there was no power on it," Chief Collins said.

So, who would do this? There is graffiti inside - could this be the work of local gangs? Or could this be the dirty-work of someone who doesn't want Muslim worship in their neighborhood? [Link]

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Reward offered in shooting of brothers in Indian restaurant in Richmond

Richmond police today announced a $10,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of whoever fatally shot two brothers inside their Indian restaurant Thursday night, Sgt. Mitch Peixoto said.

The shooting was reported at 9:14 p.m. and occurred in the Sahib Indian Restaurant at 12221 San Pablo Ave., Richmond police Sgt. Lori Curran said.

Two male suspects reportedly asked the brothers, who had closed the restaurant, if they were open, Peixoto said. Ravinder Kalsi, 30, opened the door for the men and they shot him immediately, according to Peixoto.

The men then stepped over Ravinder Kalsi's body to chase his brother, Paramjit Kalsi, 42. The suspects fired several times at Paramjit Kalsi, killing him in the restaurant's kitchen area, Peixoto said.

Investigating police have not determined the motive in the killings, but the incident does not appear to be a robbery - the suspects did not attempt to access the cash box.

The brothers owned the restaurant business, but not the building, and were hoping to sell the restaurant to enter the construction business, Peixoto said.

Surveillance footage from the area around the restaurant shows two persons of interest that might have been involved in the shooting, Peixoto said. [Link]

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The Discrimination & National Security Initiative (DNSI) is a research entity that examines the mistreatment of minority communities during times of military action or national crisis.

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