Fixing Mistakes, One Ecard at a Time

September 21, 2010

This week, the Coalition convinced, a popular website for free greeting cards, to remove a greeting card from its pages that misidentified Sikhs as members of the Taliban. The card showed an image of a Sikh and a non-Sikh shaking hands, with the caption “Sex & the City 2 could be the first occurrence in history to equally mortify Americans and the Taliban.”

In our letter to the website’s investors and co-founder, we wrote,

“By wrongly associating Sikhs with the Taliban, the message this greeting card sends is that those who wear turbans are America’s enemies. This has very real consequences for Sikh Americans…In fact, since 9/11 our organization has received over 600 complaints of hate crimes, employment discrimination, profiling, and other forms of discrimination perpetrated by people who have animus against Sikhs, based only on their outward appearance with beards and turbans… The connection between demeaning turbans and discrimination is sadly very real – and very dangerous – for our community.” Read the rest of this entry »


Why We Support Muslims

September 9, 2010

By now, you have heard about the so-called ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ in New York and plans by a misguided Florida preacher to burn copies of the Quran.  The media is saturated with endless points and counterpoints about these proposals, and many Sikhs wonder whether they have an obligation to support or distance themselves from Muslims in these turbulent times.

The Sikh Gurus, in their infinite wisdom, gave practical expression to their belief in interfaith harmony: during his travels, Guru Nanak was accompanied by a Muslim minstrel known as Bhai Mardana; during the life of Guru Arjan, the foundation stone of Darbar Sahib in Amritsar was laid by a Muslim saint known as Mian Mir; in the fullness of time, the writings of Baba Sheik Farid were enshrined in the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs.

It is no secret that Sikhs experienced brutal persecution in the name of Islam in the course of history, but our forbears did not blame all Muslims for the acts of tyrants.  Unlike the Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb, who preached religious exclusivity, both Banda Singh Bahadur and Maharaja Ranjit Singh guaranteed religious freedom to all people—including Muslims—during the two periods of Sikh sovereignty in Punjab during the 18th and 19th centuries.  These guarantees were made despite the fact that countless thousands of Sikhs had been killed in the intervening years by invading armies and tyrants for refusing to convert to Islam.

As Sikh Americans in the 21st century, are we prepared to insult the memory of Bhai Mardana, Mian Mir, and Sheik Farid by blaming all Muslims for the acts of terrorists?  Are we prepared to follow in the footsteps of Aurangzeb by denying Muslims their Constitutional rights?  Or would we rather overcome bigotry and terrorism by living up to our Sikh tenets and defending our Muslim friends and neighbors?

24 Hours in DC: A Coalition Intern’s Experience

July 2, 2010

Hello!  My name is Sally Hartman.  I am the Coalition’s Legal Fellow this summer, based out of our New York City office.  I’m writing to share a bit about my experience over the course of the past few weeks with the Coalition.

The staff in the New York office has been nice enough to encourage all the New York interns to experience the Coalition’s DC-based work by going there whenever an opportunity arises. Here, I’d like to discuss my trip to Washington, DC last week!

Ok, here is the run down of my 24 hours in DC:


June 23, 3:30 PM

Meeting at the law firm Covington & Burling with Coalition staff members Am

ardeep Singh (Amar) and Rajdeep Singh.  Covington & Burling is providing pro bono assistance to the Sikh Coalition on its TSA work.  What a great team they are! They were full of inspired ideas about how to bring our concerns with the TSA to the forefront in the unique political world of DC.

Read the rest of this entry »

EEOC settles case protecting Sikh employee’s right to wear kirpan at work

June 10, 2010

As many of you know, the Sikh Coalition is litigating a case against the federal government for firing a government employee because she refused to remove her kirpan at work.

In a bit of good news, just this week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in San Francisco settled the employment discrimination case of a Sikh woman who wanted to carry her kirpan in the workplace.  This is a great victory for the Sikh community, and hopefully this decision bodes well for our pending case.

The EEOC press release is below.

Read the rest of this entry »

Walking on New Ground by Natasha Kaur

April 12, 2010

Last month, I was fortunate to participate in the Sikh Coalition’s very first Sikh Presenter’s Course. It was an empowering weekend which went above and beyond my expectations. The Coalition’s education team, Manbeena Kaur, Satjeet Kaur, and Amardeep Singh, thoughtfully designed this two and a half day curriculum dedicated to training local NY/NJ Sikhs to effectively deliver presentations on Sikhi in schools and community groups. The course was highly professional and engaging, simply another one of many examples of the Coalition’s remarkable achievements.

Natasha Kaur, during her 5 minute presentation

A friend told me about this program over dinner one night and I was immediately intrigued. I remembered that a good friend and mentor had taken the initiative to create a Powerpoint presentation about the Sikh faith and went to local schools to educate kids about the Sikh community. Word of his presentations quickly spread through the ‘teacher network,’ and within a few months he was overwhelmed with invitations and requests from schools all over the state. I vividly remember him describing those experiences, sharing amusing comments that the kids made and insights gained. I promised myself that I would continue the effort one day. When I heard about the Sikh Presenters course, it felt like the Sikh Coalition read my mind and presented me with an opportunity that turned my ‘one day…’ into ‘today.’

The first day kicked off with a session led by Fred Polirer, a consultant in leadership development, who asked each of us to give a 5 minute presentation to introduce ourselves to the group. It seemed harmless, until I slowly realized that it was a pre-test on our public speaking skills. Suddenly I became nervous, and flashbacks of the days when I participated in speech competitions overcame me. After all fifteen of us spoke, we received evaluations on our overall effectiveness and let’s just say, I had a large margin for improvement. Throughout the day, we learned different techniques to engage audiences, practiced delivering mock presentations, and received constructive feedback by our peers and facilitators. The improvement in our skills from one session to the next was dramatic, and together we were on our way to becoming more confident and capable ambassadors of Sikhi. Read the rest of this entry »

Sikh Teachers in Their Own Words

February 12, 2010

My name is Gurprasad Kaur Khalsa and I am an observant practitioner of the Sikh faith.  I have been teaching in the Los Angeles public schools for 22 years, dressed in full bana, which includes wearing a white turban on my head.  I am a bilingual teacher of Spanish and English and work in dual language programs in the primary grades.  My dress is part of my practice of Sikhism, which for me is much more than a religion.  It’s a way of life.  My dress is an integral part of my practice, and it would be hypocritical of me not to wear it to work.  I was told by the school administrator who hired me that they would not be able to consider themselves an institution of learning if they did not allow me to express my faith in the way that I choose.

My name is Siri Datar Kaur. I am biology teacher in Queens, New York.  I earned my teaching degree at Lehman College and have been teaching science for 5 years. I enjoy assisting students in learning about the wonders of life, how the body works, the interrelatedness of life, and the scientific method. Students enjoy a hands on approach that facilitates an understanding of the subject matter in an enjoyable way and in the process learn valuable skills, such as critical evaluation reading comprehension and writing. I wear a turban and this has not been not been an obstacle to my success as a teacher.  It is important for our community to know that we can and should be able to work in any position we are qualified for, without prejudice.

My name is Ajeet Singh.  As a New York City schoolteacher, I taught about the diversity of our world through the state’s World History curriculum. Although I wear a turban in accordance with my religious beliefs, my Sikh identity did not offend my students and did not prevent them from succeeding. The view of New York policymakers is that children who grow up in a diverse society will become better citizens if they gain exposure to people from different backgrounds. We know that only education can overcome ignorance and promote a more tolerant society. In an increasingly globalized world, we cannot afford to remain blind to diversity. It’s a fact of life.

My name is Hardip Singh. As a Sikh, I wear a turban.  After my retirement in 1995, I served as a substitute teacher for two years in Fairfax and Prince William Counties in Northern Virginia.  As a substitute teacher, I taught ESL, Biology, and Home Economics at all levels of school, including Elementary, Middle, and High School, and Special Education Adult High Schools.

Guest Blog: Ravitej Singh (A Victory in Oregon)

February 11, 2010

On Wednesday, February 10, 2010, the Oregon House of Representatives honored Oregon’s dedication to inclusion and diversity.

Since 1923, a KKK-sponsored law prohibiting religious clothing worn by school teachers has been part of Oregon law. In the mid 1980s, a Sikh teacher was terminated and discredited because of this law for wearing a turban to her school.   In 2009, the law was upheld after the Oregon legislature carved out an exclusion for public schools under the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act.

Read the rest of this entry »