November 14, 2016 | By United Sikhs
Washington: There can be nothing more comforting after a bitter political campaign than a President-elect that promises to do his best to represent all constituencies. Second to that may be the commitment by voters to the concept that Democracy works because the People accept the election results. Despite protests claiming that Mr. Trump is not President for all Americans and calls for the Electoral College to vote him out, respect for the rule of law shows that in the U.S. the fundamental democratic precepts are still strong. However, Trump’s metaphorical “forgotten man” and “forgotten woman” conflict starkly with his statement that he wIll be President for all Americans. This is especially the case because his recent campaign promises and rhetoric do not inspire confidence in that this “forgotten man” may be the Sikh who faces bullying and hate crime when he steps out the door. His choice of Cabinet leaders may further remove Sikhs and other minorities from Trump’s idea of the forgotten man in the minds of the communities he affirms he will represent unless his Cabinet members are from diverse and representative backgrounds.
A diverse Cabinet may be the one single thing that could create hope that the tone of Trump’s Presidency could be different from that in his campaigning and that he may create a truly representative government for all. However, there is speculation that his cabinet will be composed of private sector bankers and conservative politicians and that he may have a hard time finding qualified women and minorities to bring in as advisors.
Why is a diverse Trump Cabinet important for the Sikh community? According to Tejinder Bains, Esq., an attorney in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, President Trump will name one but could name possibly three U.S. Supreme Court judges who will serve for life. His Cabinet will help him decide who the next nominees for Justices should be. They will also recommend what policies to pursue. The expectation is that the Cabinet members will likely come from the group Trump considers the “forgotten man.” If media speculation is right, Trump’s Cabinet, as will any Supreme Court nominee, will likely have the same conservative background and ideology.
According to Mr. Bains, “it would be a tragedy for the Sikh community if because of Trump’s choices the standard under which government can infringe upon religious rights were to change for the worse. Today, the government may not infringe directly or indirectly on religious rights unless it can show a “compelling interest. Government must also show that it used a least restrictive method to achieve that interest in order to pass constitutional muster,” states Mr. Bains. “This is a high standard imposed by statute.” “In the 1990s, a conservative Supreme Court, in 6 to 3 vote, held that the test should be the broader “health and safety” standard,” says Mr.Bains. “What this could mean for Sikhs, and other religious minorities, is that the so called “hard hat” and other religious rights cases that come before the Court could be decided in favor of greater government intrusion not necessarily in favor of respect for the individual’s right to exercise his or her religion.” Taken a step further,” states Mr. Bains, “what little progress has been made on religious freedom policies coming from federal agencies could be reversed.”
If a conservative Cabinet spells reversal of First Amendment, freedom of religion clause, policies, then the Trump administration would have forgotten the true “forgotten man” and “forgotten woman.” Reversal of recent progressive laws and policies could mean that Sikhs and other communities could be forced to continue to compromise rights in order to obtain or hold jobs or even to be allowed to participate in civic life. For example, conservative laws that require uniformity in law enforcement, or paternalistic safety regulations that impose hard hats or helmets regulations or bans across the board on Kirpans in courts and other public spaces create unnecessary barriers for Sikhs that want to join the military or serve jury duty but not forego their sincerely held religious beliefs that mandate that they carry their five articles of faith.
The lack of gender representation on the Trump Cabinet may spell a significant ideological change in the laws that affect women as well.
President-elect Trump has not yet chosen his Cabinet. There are only hopes that he will fulfil the promise to represent all Americans and whether he will or not we will know soon enough. In the meantime, the Sikh community should prepare. This means members of the Gurdwaras should remain vigilant and participate in Department of Home Security (DHS) Preparedness programs as they have been. It is also important that members push locally for hate crime prevention legislation and improved race relations at the grassroots level. Communities should work with police and law enforcement to ensure that these become diversified and representative of the communities they serve. Anti bullying discourse should also continue in order to strengthen the progress made so far. Over the last few years what has worked are local policies that provide due process in dealing with bullying in schools, locally teaching children to understand and appreciate other cultures, providing multicultural books in the curriculum and in reading recommendations and pairing children of similar age with peers of different backgrounds throughout the school year.
It is also important that Sikh community leaders collaborate to build and improve relationships with government. UNITED SIKHS has been a leader in this regard. We look forward to the challenges ahead and to petitioning the new administration whenever needed on behalf of the Sikh community.