Friday News Roundup: Dastaars on the Defense

istock_000003001750xsmallIf you’re like a lot of non-Sikhs you probably don’t know what this headline means, because you don’t know what a dastaar (or dastar) is.

A dastaar is the turban traditionally worn by Sikh men, and the right to wear it is under attack from all quarters: schools and workplaces in the U.S., the U.S. miliary and schools internationally.

Also this week:  a plug for Tanenbaum staffers and Peacemaker Azhar Hussain!

First, a bit of self-promotion: Religion and Conflict Resolution Assistant Director Heather DuBois (ably assisted by intern Matt Lucas) has a piece in this week’s Common Ground News Service on Azhar Hussain’s work reforming madrasas (Islamic schools) in Pakistan.  “Madrasa enhancement in Pakistan” was also picked up by the Pakistan Christian Post and The Frontier Post (a Pakistani daily out of Peshawar) and enjoyed a few moments of fame on Twitter.

Thanks to those who are helping spread Azi’s story, and congrats to Heather and Matt!

Now, on to the dastaar drama.

A new workplace discrimination law in Oregon, the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act, broadens the protections and rights offered to employees with religious needs; it requires employees to allow religiously required garb and facial hair and time off for observances. It also carves out an exception: school districts. (FYI, Oregon already has a law on the books barring teachers from wearing religious garb, which the Act would have overwritten.) So while protections are extended to all other classes of workers in Oregon, teachers are required to choose between their observance and their profession.

“Yet even the bill’s strongest champion, House Speaker Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, admits it falls short. He said he offered a similar bill in 2007 that would have allowed teachers to wear religious clothing, but it didn’t pass.

“I think all Oregon workers should have the right to freely exercise their religion and do their job,” Hunt said. But the bill didn’t have the votes to pass without the exclusion for teachers, he said.

“It was one of those legislative compromises you do.” ” (The Oregonian)

Although the law would also bar items like yarmulkes, Sikh groups are particularly troubled because the dastaar is such a distinctive article of clothing.  The Langar Hall, a blog by Sikh youth living in the diaspora, sharply criticizes the bill.   The op-ed page of The Oregonian has also come out against the bill, urging the governor not to sign.

Meanwhile, the Punjabi Newsline reports that over the pond, the European Court of Human Rights rejected a French student’s claim that he be allowed to wear the dastaar to school. (France is no stranger to battles over religious garb in public.)

Back in the US, Sikhs are also pushing to be allowed to wear the dastaar while serving in the military and other law enforcement positions.  Reports the San Jose Mercury News:

“Two U.S. Army doctors are fighting to start active duty without having to shed the turbans and beards of their Sikh faith. Jaskirat Singh ran into the same roadblock when he tried to join the Milpitas Police Department’s Explorer program.”

As the controversy continues, First Amendment scholar Charles Haynes’ piece, “It’s time to stop putting Sikhs to the ‘cruel choice’” continues to be picked up around the country, and The Sikh Times reports that the US House of Representatives has been moved to action:

“Today US Representatives Rodney Frelinghuysen (D-NJ) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) released a sign-on letter to their colleagues in Congress. The Congressional sign-on letter is addressed to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. It strongly supports the right of Sikhs to freely serve in the United States military.”

Other ongoing stories, like the several faith-healing cases currently making their way through the courts, France’s continuing burqa saga and others are tracked on our website, as always.