Washington State Issues Revised Guidelines Allowing Turbans
March 13, 2008
Author/Source: Jaspreet Singh, Staff Attorney, International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy (ICHRA)
Seattle, WA, USA - In a victory for the Sikh community of Washington State, the Department of Licensing issued revised guidelines to its employees regarding religious headgear, late last month. UNITED SIKHS and the Sikh community applaud Governor Christine Gregoire's Office and the Department of Licensing for their swift action in rectifying this issue. Salwinder S. Atwal, Gurpreet Singh, and Kundan Singh have all received their licenses, including pictures with their turbans as they are normally worn.
Washington Department of Licensing originally issued Salwinder S. Atwal a license with the notation "Not Valid for Identification." After UNITED SIKHS intervened, the Department of Licensing issued a new license that was valid for identification.
"If a licensing official tells you to take off or lift your turban for a photo id, you have the right to say no. "
"Tell the licensing official that you always wear your turban, it is a religious requirement, and that it is part of your everyday appearance."
- If the licensing official states that you cannot obtain a license without removing your turban, or prints “not valid for identification on the license,” write down the details of the incident (date, location, what happened), official’s information (name, id number, and phone), and ask for a copy of the specific guidelines the official is following.
- Contact UNITED SIKHS immediately to report your incident, by clicking here or by telephone at 1-888-243-1690.
"I appreciate UNITED SIKHS taking such swift action in resolving this matter. I hope other Sikhs who face this issue will report it quickly so that they may receive a new license." - Salwinder S. Atwal
Within the last two months, as the Sikh gentlemen sought to renew their driver's licenses, they had been asked to remove their turbans or to lift them so that their hairline and ears were visible. Despite repeated explanations that Sikhs wear the turban for religious reasons and that the turban is part of their everyday appearance, Department of Licensing officials remained adamant, stating that Washington law required the hairline and ears to remain visible in photo identification. The Sikh men refused, which resulted in the Department of Licensing issuing the men driver's licenses marked "Not Valid of Identification."
In a letter addressed to UNITED SIKHS, Mykel Gable, Assistant Director of the Department of Licensing in Washington stated, "In researching Mr. Atwal's experience, we found the language in our employee procedure manual may have confused our staff. We are taking this opportunity to clarify the language in the employee manual to avoid a similar incident in the future."
The newly issued amendments to the employee manual specify that headgear should be removed "unless worn daily for religious or medical reasons," and further clarified that religious garb cannot conceal facial features, such as the eyes, nose, or mouth.
"We value the Governor's Office and Department of Licensing's cooperation in issuing clarifications and immediately implementing them state-wide to make sure that such types of discrimination do not occur in the future, against Sikhs or any others," said Harpreet Singh, Legal Director of UNITED SIKHS. "We are continuing to monitor discrimination regarding photograph identification nationwide and hope that other incidents are handled as professionally and efficiently as the State of Washington handled this one."
UNITED SIKHS would like to thank Governor Gregoire and Lee Marchisio of the Governor's office for their cooperation, as well as the Gurdwara Singh Sabha of Washington's community activists Satwant and Gurcharan S. Dhaliwal, Jaswinder S. Pannu, President Harinderpal Singh Bains, ACLU of Washington, Hate Free Zone, Hardeep S. Rekhi, and Asian Pacific Islander Coalition for their assistance and efforts to resolve these cases. "I appreciate UNITED SIKHS taking such swift action in resolving this matter. I hope other Sikhs who face this issue will report it quickly so that they may receive a new license," stated Salwinder S. Atwal.
Report your experiences, positive or negative, when applying for identification documents, so that we are able to present a complete picture of discriminatory practices against Sikhs to the appropriate authorities, at http://unitedsikhs.org/photoidreport/, or by telephone at 1-888-243-1690. As we continue to monitor discrimination nationwide, UNITED SIKHS urges all people to stand up for their constitutionally guaranteed rights, and urges the Sikh community to practice their faith freely and wear their turbans and articles of faith.