Bias against Sikhs in U.S. Army Alleged

International Journal of Humanities and Peace, Annual 2001 | Go to article overview

Bias against Sikhs in U.S. Army Alleged


Washington D.C.- The following is a report of discussions with President Clinton during September 1997. Dr. Rajwant Singh, an area dentist who is executive director of the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (GGSF), was the only representative from the Eastern faith traditions of Asian-American origin invited last month with 50 other religious leaders for a meeting at the White House.

At the meeting, President Clinton issued new executive guidelines aimed at protecting religious expression in the Federal workplace. The new rules make clear that Federal workers are allowed to wear religious medallions over their clothes, conduct lunchtime prayer sessions in unused conference rooms, distribute proselytizing literature to colleagues and keep the Bible or Koran on their desks to read during breaks. They were drafted with the help of a cross-section of religious groups, including the GGSF, that had the support of other religious organizations, such as the Christian Coalition and the Baptist Joint Committee, which are politically active.

These groups welcomed the guidelines as a well-intentioned effort to head off future conflicts over the separation of church and state. In June, the Supreme Court struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, a law supported by the Administration that was designed to protect religious practices from government interference well beyond the Federal workplace. But Administration officials said the guidelines announced by the President were not intended as a direct response to the court ruling.

They explained that the White House had been exploring other ways to restore some provisions of the 1993 law, such as urging the 50 states to adopt their own versions. Under the new guidelines, Federal employers shall permit religious expression by employees to the greatest extent possible, "consistent with requirements of law and interest in workplace efficiency."

Obviously, in as effort to gain as wide a consensus as possible, the White House enlisted the support of groups across a broad spectrum, including the Christian Legal Society, National Council of Churches, American Jewish Congress and People for the American Way, a liberal and progressive organization that advocates the separation of church and state. The guidelines will be distributed to all Federal civilian agencies, but do not cover uniformed military service members. Among other things, they make clear that agencies must adjust work schedules to accommodate employees' religions holidays as long as a substitute is available, or if the absence does not "impose an undue burden on the agency."

Employees must also be allowed to wear a religious garb such as a crucifix, yarmulke, head scarf or hijab (a turban in the ease of Sikhs) as long as it does not "unduly interfere with functioning of the workplace. …

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