Washington, DC, USA: From July 28-30, 2014, UNITED SIKHS held its 6 th Annual Sikh Summit in Washington DC to meet congressmen, government agencies, and NGOs to discuss Sikh issues around the world, including:
– Addressing the rise in hate crimes committed across the country;
– Halting the continued introduction of hair sampling qbills by U.S. Congress members;
– Counting Sikhs as a distinct group in the U.S. Census;
– Allowing Sikhs to serve in the U.S. Military;
– Reversing the ongoing turban ban in Belgium and France;
– Justice for victims of the Sikh Massacre of 1984
Meetings were held with:
– United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)
– United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division (DOJ-CR)
– United States Department of Justice, Community Relations Service (DOJ-CRS)
– United States Department of State (DOS)
– United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
– Congressmen from Texas, Arizona, Michigan, California, New York, Wisconsin, Nevada (including members of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, International Religious Freedom Caucus and the Armed Services Committee)
– Senators from Michigan, Missouri, Florida, North Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Delaware, Alaska, and Wyoming
Community members who attended the summit made history by meetings with Representatives and Senators from districts and states with small Sikh populations, than those more commonly resided by Sikhs. By doing so, Representatives and Senators who had never heard of Sikhism or our struggles, were educated on the tenets of the Sikh faith, its beautiful values, and post- 9/11 backlash.
Our concerns were met with understanding and agreement on the issues we brought up. In particular, commitments were made to assist UNITED SIKHS as we bring awareness in communities about the Sikh faith, in order to combat the ignorance which sparks many hate crimes and discrimination Sikhs face.
One of our young advocates also met with several Senators and Representatives on the Armed Services committee to discuss his personal story and struggle. The story was met with empathy and understanding that one should not be put in a position to choose between their faith and country.
In addition, we discussed the need for Sikhs to be counted as a separate category within the U.S. Census so we know the accurate number of Sikhs residing in the United States and can use those numbers to further our advocacy efforts. With the 2020 Census in mind, we vigorously gained commitments from key members of Congress who work on Census issues.
The issue of proposed hair sampling bills was also brought to the attention of Department of Justice officials, Representatives, and Senators. In particular, we met with co-sponsors of the bill to educate them on the importance of unshorn hair to the Sikh faith and how the bill would allow employers to force a Sikh operator to provide a hair sample thereby preventing Sikhs from seeking employment as operators due to their inability to cut their hair for any purpose. Their response was universally of understanding that an exemption for religious purposes should be included.
During our meetings with the USCIRF and DOS, we raised concerns faced by our international Sikh community, including the ongoing turban ban in Belgium and France, including critical international Sikh issues in the DOS Annual Report, and obtaining justice for victims of the Sikh Massacre of 1984.
Community members also had the opportunity to speak to DHS TSA officials about the high rate of Sikh profiling conducted in airports. TSA officials were also informed of the insensitive nature of secondary screenings.
Overall, our community members, Academy students, and staff were able to inform and bring awareness to many different agencies and members of the House of Representatives and Senate.
Our work is far from done, as we continue to follow up and hold our government accountable for the commitments they have made to protect religious freedom.