Sikh Student Ordered to Remove Turban For Graduation Ceremony, Sikh Organization Intervenes Successfully
July 6th, 2004
Los Angeles, California: A high school has allowed a Sikh student to participate in graduation ceremonies wearing his turban after initially telling him he would only be allowed to wear a cap. The high school reversed course after the intervention of the Sikh Coalition and local Sikh activists.
Officials at Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, California, told eighteen year old Harbakshish Singh last week that he could not wear his turban to graduation ceremonies. Citing a school district policy, administrators refused to issue him a graduation gown until he agreed to wear a cap to the ceremony.
Despite pressure, Harbakshish refused to agree to remove his turban. Instead, just two days before the ceremony, a family member contacted the Sikh Coalition requesting its assistance.
The Coalition responded to Harbakshish's request for help in four primary ways:
- The Coalition made contact with the school the same day Harbakshish requested assistance. The Coalition's Legal Director spoke with the school's vice-principal, explaining the significance of the turban and how prohibiting Harbakshish from wearing it constituted a violation of his civil rights.
- The Coalition's Legal Director sent a detailed letter to the school the next morning explaining the ways in which the school's policy violated federal and California state law. The letter contained several types of supporting information, including legal precedent on the religious headdress in schools, photographic evidence that a neighboring high school within the same school district allowed a Sikh to attend his graduation ceremony while wearing his turban, and a letter from the LA County Sheriff's Department welcoming turbaned Sikhs to serve as police officers.
- At the same time the Sikh Coalition contacted the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, Muslim Public Affairs Council, South Asian Network and United States Justice Department regarding Harbakshish's situation.
- The Coalition coordinated its efforts with local Sikh activists, including Natasha Kaur, a Sikh attorney in Los Angeles who contacted the school district's attorneys requesting that they inform the school that their policy would violate the law. The Coalition thanks Natasha for working with us to resolve this matter.
The day before graduation, without any word on whether he would be allowed to participate with his turban on, Harbakshish boldly decided to try to participate in a graduation ceremony practice. As he arrived at school to begin practice, his school principal approached him and informed him that he would be allowed to wear his turban to the ceremony. The school also contacted Harbakshish's sister who had been anxiously waiting to find out whether her brother would be a part of graduation. The next day, Harbakshish celebrated the completion of his high school career at his graduation along with his classmates.
To learn more about the Sikh Coalition and the work they do please visit http://www.SikhCoalition.org