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24 May, 2014

Report: Hate Crimes Against Sikhs On The Rise Globally

WASHINGTON, DC (5/21/14)- UNITED SIKHS’ 5th Global Sikh Civil and Human Rights Report was released on May 21, 2014 in Washington, D.C. to United States elected officials, agency representatives and the Sikh community.

The report highlights the rising number of incidents of hate, violence, and bias against Sikhs worldwide, and it outlines the continuing acts of hate and prejudice against Sikhs in the United States. In the report, Mejinderpal Kaur, International Legal Director for UNITED SIKHS, states “Whilst a Sikh fights a battle within him/herself to understand and implement his/her Guru’s definition of the Sikh identity, Sikh civil and human rights organizations are facing an increasing demand to advocate for religious freedom of Sikhs.”

The numerous acts of hate and prejudice against Sikhs listed in the report include: the August 2012 massacre of Sikhs by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin (he mistook the Sikhs for Muslims); the hate-motivated attack on an 80-year-old Sikh outside a Sikh temple in California; and the shooting of a Sikh in Port Orange, Florida while he was driving a car with his 13-year-old son.

“The greatest danger facing humanity is religious-fuelled nationalism, the cloak of sanctity over the politics of hate,” says distinguished scholar and retired judge Sir Mota Singh. “We must appreciate all faiths, recognize that they offer rich spiritual experiences, and encourage their followers to a nobler way of life.”

Manmeet Singh, UNITED SIKHS attorney, presented the Global Report to each speaker and provided a synopsis of the issues discussed within the 188-page report. The presentation covered the major countries where Sikhs face civil and human rights abuses.

Members of congress, agency officials, partner organizations, and the Sikh community from around the United States were in attendance. Expressing their support for the report were: Congressman Mike Honda (17-CA); Congressman Tom McClintock (4-CA); Congressman Paul Ryan (Oak Creek, Wisconsin Representative, 1-WI); US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Elizabeth Cassidy (Deputy Director for Policy and Research); US Dept. of State International Religious Freedom office’s Brian Bachman (Acting Director).

Congressman Ryan, who represents the district which includes Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the site of the August 2012 massacre of Sikhs by a white supremacist, spoke on the need to do a better job at talking about tolerance. “We have to make sure this never happens again,” he said. He also expressed how pleased he was to see the Sikh community come together within a very short time after the attack in Oak Creek.

Compiled from research, field observations, surveys, and input on Sikh issues from local residents and lawyers in various countries around the world, as well as reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the Global Sikh Civil and Human Rights Report also details the hate-motivated assault on a Sikh professor at Columbia University while he was out for a walk in Harlem, New York; the non-acceptance of devout Sikhs in the U.S. armed forces and ROTC; discriminatory treatment of Sikhs by employers; and discounting Sikhs as a separate category in the U.S. census.

With regard to Sikhs being barred from serving in the US armed forces, Ms. Heather L Weaver, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU, states in the report “If the military continues to cling to these weak excuses, it will likely force Sikhs into court to defend their rights. There, the military will have to contend with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law passed in 2000 that requires the federal government to show that there is a compelling interest in denying requested religious accommodations and that the uniform and grooming rules are the least restrictive means of achieving that interest. The military is unlikely to meet this high standard: History and the more recent examples above show that Sikhs are perfectly capable of serving with honor and without incident while wearing their articles of faith.”

At the event, Congressman Mike Honda stated, “This [report] is just the beginning and it is about time for this report in this country. No more excuses….There is no other report like this.”

Incidents of hate and bias against Sikhs in more than two dozen countries worldwide, as well as advances in Sikh rights made during the past year are also highlighted. Advances include an amendment to a law in Queensland, Australia to exempt turbaned Sikh bike riders from wearing helmets and 40 Sikh students’ successful defense of their right to wear turbans at a Catholic school in Baramullah, Kashmir.

The current situation in France and Belgium with regard to the turban ban, the plight of Sikhs in Afghanistan and Pakistan who face severe restrictions on the practice of their faith and the situation in Canada where, Parti Québécois, a party now voted out of power in Quebec, had tabled a highly discriminatory and controversial law in its National Assembly are also examined.

During his speech, Mr. Brian Bachman, Acting Director of the US Dept. of State International Religious Freedom office, expressed his belief that religious freedom is at the very foundation of our nation.

The Global Sikh Civil and Human Rights Report is available here: www.unitedsikhs.org/