Sikhs in the Spotlight

In the last week, the Sikh population of the United States has come under fire in several workplace environments.  Traditionally, Sikhs are required by their religion, among other things, to refrain from cutting their hair and to wear a turban and beard.  Yet again, this has become a hot button issue for two organizations requiring uniforms in the workplace: New York’s MTA and the U.S. Military

It is upsetting to think that, in the land of personal freedoms, anyone would be denied their right to religious expression, particularly when the sought concession seems minor and reasonable.  It is also worrisome, when the recession and the competitive global marketplace are taken into account, to think good workers are being excluded purely because of headgear. 

Of course, there are limits to what any business is required to accommodate, but past cases have already shown that flexibility and creativity can solve this particular issue.  For example, Canadian armed forces allow turbans and dictate color based on division to increase uniformity.   Also, there are efforts underway in the United Kingdom to open more law enforcement opportunities to Sikhs by creating bulletproof turbans.

But, there just may be a glimmer of hope in the land of interreligious understanding.  It seems to be these sorts of issues, the ones of visual differences, that trip us up the most.  And there is something much shallower about disputes over turbans than there would be in a dispute over dogma. 

Maybe we’re halfway there, accepting the deep differences but struggling with their evidence.  After all, we live in a land of progress.  Just think: jeans, women in pants, body piercings and Casual Friday were all workplace battles in their own time.  Maybe this is just the next step, and faith has little or nothing to do with it.