Sikhs across America Welcome TSA's Policy change on Turban

  Washington October 23, 2007: Sikhs across America have welcomed the steps taken by TSA authorities to correct the policy of indiscriminate screening of Turbans at the airports. The United States’ Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced last week the adjustment of its screening policies for headwear which included Turbans and these security procedures for head covering will be effective October 27.

According to the new guidelines by TSA, airport screeners will no longer "pat down" people wearing religious head coverings and travelers will have the choice to go through alternative security measures. Officials said that such alternatives may include walking through a machine that detects explosive chemicals or wearers could agree to pat down their own turban, and then have their hands swabbed with a cloth that is tested for chemical residue.

Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, said, "This is a welcome change. The Sikh community is fully committed to working with the Government to ensure the safety of all Americans and at the same time ensuring that the religious rights of all citizens are protected. Dr. Singh also appreciates that TSA has decided to provide all its field employees, mandatory cultural awareness training about Sikh observances."

Dr. Rajwant Singh added , "We recommend that TSA make efforts to hire more Sikh Americans as TSA officers and administrators. This will certainly help in creating a congenial environment for the Sikh community."

The new policy is a direct response to Sikh concerns, raised after the TSA decided that "bulky" headwear like cowboy hats, berets or turbans would be patted down as screening measure. The TSA has now removed turbans from its screener guidance.

SCORE had written a letter to Kip Hawley, the TSA Director, on October 11th after consulting number of Sikh leaders across the nation prior to the new rule change. The letter had stated: The Sikh American community acknowledges the need for airport security and appreciates the TSA's efforts to prevent terrorist activity. However, our community feels with the implementation of the new screening procedures by the TSA, the community is being unduly targeted by the security apparatus at the airports." SCORE had also contacted the higher officials at the White House. Satinder Singh Rekhi, Chairman of the Board of SCORE, had also worked with the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional offices on this issue.

Satinder Rekhi, CEO of R-Systems in Sacramento, California, said, "We are thankful to TSA for resolving this matter and we are looking to a working relationship to making sure that these issues do not arise again. I welcome TSA's new stance as it shows their willingness to learn more about our cultural sensitivities as well as accommodates the needs of the Sikh American community."

SCORE's letter further stated, "TSA officials have indicated that the extra security screening process is necessary due to the potential for carrying on-board dangerous materials or items. The same is true for other clothing garments. For example, undergarments (padded bras), 'Depend' underwear, etc. The community feels that as long as the TSA's Standard Operation Procedure is generally applicable to all passengers and Sikhs are not singled out, any additional screening is acceptable. It is crucial that a turban wearing Sikh must not feel that he or she will be automatically singled out because of their turban. We assume that many other non-Sikh, religious head coverings are also being handled carefully."

The letter included, "No "Automatic Pat Down" at the initial screening is acceptable. It should be done only and only when it is deemed absolutely necessary by the security staff provided the criteria utilized to select the Sikh passenger is also being applied to all other passenger irrespective of whether they are wearing a head-covering or not. Puffer machines should be used after initial screening, if required. In its absence if it is a “must" only then PAT DOWN should be conducted."

The letter had stated, "The Sikh turban represents the values of truth, discipline and peace. These are same values that we all are trying to protect in America. The Sikh American community is committed to enhancing the security of the country and is eager to work with TSA in accomplishing its goal while ensuring that their civil rights are not impinged upon.

"We are very grateful to the TSA for listening to the concerns of the Sikh community and revising its policy accordingly," said Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa, Director of Communications for Sikh Dharma International from New Mexico. "And we would like to especially commend all of the Sikh groups and leaders who worked so diligently with the government to have this policy changed. We so appreciate all you do to protect and promote the Sikh identity in the United States."

Mohinder Singh Taneja, NY Director of SCORE, said, "It is a great step in the right direction.The Sikh Community's positive and active partnership with various law-enforcement agencies is paying its dividends. Its imperative that everybody in our community, should do the long overdue, but very much needed "PR" in creating awareness at all levels. Else we should just blame ourselves for such unfortunate situations.In this regard we should encourage cooperation and support from other Communities, Organizations and Agencies also. In Long Island, New York this approach has helped us a lot for over a decade of building relationships.

K.P. Singh, a prominent Sikh leader from Indianapolis, said, "Whereas Sikh Americans recognize in full solidarity and strongly support the need to keep all Americans safe, we also pray that the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and all other law enforcement agencies and authorities across the United States do everything in their power to safeguard the sanctity of religious symbols and faith-mandated sacred articles of faith, such as the Sikh turban."

"We request that all loyal and hardworking peace-loving citizens whether they are Sikhs, Muslims, Arab-Americans, or others must be assured their dignity and treated in a culturally sensitive manner at the nation's airports and elsewhere. The Sikh turban is an honorable symbol and a distinct article of faith; all unwarranted suspicion, embarrassing searches, and unfortunate stereotyping of the entire Sikh and other faith communities are an infringement upon sacred rights and freedoms guaranteed under the American Constitution."

"Revision of the standing TSA policy in light of the concerns expressed by many respected Sikh American organizations (Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, and others) across the nation is a step in the right direction."

"While it is still too early to judge how this adjustment will affect the climate surrounding passenger screenings and airport security in general, this definitely shows a good faith policy on the part of the TSA” Joseph K. Grieboski, President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, A Washington based think tank, stated. “Hopefully, these efforts will protect religious freedom rights for individuals as well as create less opportunity for individuals to be violated on the basis of their decision to practice their faith as they see fit."

Dr. Jasbir Singh Kang from Punjabi American Heritage Society, Yuba City, said, "This is a GREAT step in right direction and we hope the TSA will continue to make best efforts to train and educate its staff about the Sikh sensitivities about Turban and respect for the religious pluralism in this great nation".

Sartaj Singh Dhami, An Outreach Director of SCORE, said, "Although TSA's initial set of new screening procedures for those with head coverings, religious or not, made me feel unwanted or as if I was being targeted for no reason, I quite welcome TSA's new approach. As a Sikh American, I wish to uphold security for our Nation without compromising my religious beliefs."

"It's quite unfortunate that the Sikh American community had to once again be the deliberate recipients of unwanted scrutiny due to security changes in travel - a community that has had much unwanted backlash in the post 9/11 world."

Dhami added, "The Sikh American community applauds the swift action of the TSA, under Mr. Hawley's direction, to understand how their new security procedures had a negative effort for Sikhs, as well as the identification of new protocols to make the security process more welcoming for those how have religious based head coverings."


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