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Mississippi: Efforts by United Sikhs led to new policy on harassment and non-discrimination

September 4, 2013 | By

Pike County, Mississippi (September 04, 2013): It is learnt that after filing a Civil Rights Complaint with the Department of Justice and persistent advocacy, the Pike County Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual now includes the harassment and non-discrimination policy. A US based NGO named the United Sikhs has welcomed this new policy.

Jagjeet Singh Missisipi

Jagjeet Singh

On March 26, 2013, Jagjeet Singh, an amritdhari (initiated) Sikh, appeared for a hearing at the Pike County Justice Court in Magnolia, Mississippi, but was escorted out of the courtroom on the orders of a judge by several highway patrolmen. The patrolmen asked Mr.Singh to either remove his “hat” or not enter the courtroom because the judge didn’t like it. Mr. Singh refused to remove his dastaar (turban).

The events leading to this court hearing were also distasteful. Mr. Singh was initially stopped and detained because his truck had a burst tire, but was arrested for not obeying the officer’s orders to remove his kirpan (small sheathed ceremonial sword). His pleas not to remove, or force him to remove his kirpan and his explanation about its religious importance were ignored. Singh also reports being mistreated and mocked at by the detaining officers.

“I was in Mississippi, a place far away from my home in California when the two unfortunate incidents happened- First my arrest for wearing a Kirpan, and later, the shocking incident where I was escorted out of the courtroom by several Highway Patrolmen and asked to remove my turban because the judge didn’t like it. If it were not for United Sikhs timely help, my situation could have become worse. They came to my rescue both times, provided all legal assistance and ensured that my issues were taken care of. I can’t thank them enough. Also, I am extremely happy that their efforts have borne fruit in that a new Harassment and Non-Discrimination policy has been put into place for all Pike County employees. This is a great achievement. I am very happy that no other devout Sikh, Jew, Muslim or person of any other faith who wears religious head covering will have to undergo what I had to in Pike County, Mississippi.” said Jagjeet Singh.

According to the Unted Sikhs, their legal team worked together with local counsel in Mississippi who were engaged by United Sikhs to represent Mr. Singh at his court hearing.

“Our counsel negotiated with the local prosecutor and the arresting officer not to pursue any charges and so, Mr.Singh was released. But what transpired in court that day was shocking- Singh was asked to remove his dastaar (turban). He was in the present situation because he had stood up for his freedom of religion, for his mandated religious practices and he was again put in a similar situation when the judge asked for this dastaar (turban) to be removed” reads a statement by the United Sikhs.

“The efforts and support of local counsel, Ms. Lee Ann Slipher, are much appreciated as she stood up for her client. Slipher became a witness to the incident for the record, and was extremely supportive during Mr.Singh’s ordeal in court”, it reads further.

“United Sikhs would also like to thank the DOJ Civil Rights Division, especially Mr. Michael Mule’ for handling this matter and for working towards ensuring a positive outcome thus avoiding further discriminatory incidents like these”.

“This policy is a step in the right direction and a great achievement not only for Sikhs, but for people of all faiths. It should work to ensure that nobody is discriminated against because of his/her outward religious appearance and genuine religious beliefs,” said United Sikhs’ Staff Attorney Manmeet Singh.

“We also extend our gratitude to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) President Ms. Susan Herman, ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Ms. Heather Weaver, and Legal Director of ACLU Mississippi Ms.Bear Atwood who have been very supportive and are working with us on further matters related to this case”, he added.

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