Washington, D.C., December 26, 2006 – This past November, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) received a formal letter of regret from the Lehigh Valley Youth Soccer League (LVYSL) for denying Harshaan Singh Athwal the right to play soccer while wearing his patka (Sikh religious head-covering). The first incident occurred on November 4, 2006 when Harshaan Athwal was denied from playing in a youth soccer match because the referee felt his patka was a safety risk for players of the opposing team. Additionally, on November 11th, Harshaan was again denied from playing in a match by a different referee, who cited that the jura, his knotted hair on top of his head, could physically harm another player. Following these incidents, SALDEF was approached by Harshaan’s mother, Jaswant Kaur Athwal on November 13, 2006, regarding this biased and unfair treatment of her son. SALDEF immediately drafted a response to the LVYSL on November 14th noting, “Like other devout Sikhs, Harshaan wraps his uncut hair and covers it with a patka. Harshaan’s hair and patka have deep religious meaning to him, reflecting his personal relationship with and devotion to God. A turban is not an “optional” clothing item to put on and remove at will, like a baseball cap.” “I was worried that Harshaan wouldn’t be allowed to play soccer anymore due to his patka”, said Mrs. Athwal. "I contacted SALDEF immediately to make sure that he would be allowed to play the game he loves and be with his teammates. SALDEF responded quickly to my email, and followed up with the league President to make sure Harshaan would be allowed back on the field.” Additionally, in light of the incidents, the LVYSL held a meeting on November 14th to discuss the incidents at length. Many local residents came out to support Harshaan including local parents, fellow players and members of the team’s coaching staff. In response to SALDEF’s letter, LVYSL President Bernie Bennett sent a letter on November 17th stating, “It is the league’s fondest wish that every youth be allowed to participate in the beautiful game, regardless of race, religion, gender nationality, economic status, athletic ability, or any other classification.” Finally, on November 20, 2006 the State of Pennsylvania Referee Association issued clarifying guidelines relating to religious head coverings. Reiterating the need for religious exemptions they wrote that the, “Secretary General of the United States Soccer Federation has given permission to those bound by religious law to wear such head coverings, usually a turban or yarmulke.” “I would like this to set a precedent, so no other child or mother has to go through this ordeal,” stated Mrs. Athwal. “I am deeply grateful to your organization, for all your help in this matter. I commend you highly for your great work.” “We would like to thank the Athwal family for their courage in bringing this issue to SALDEF’s attention”, said SALDEF Managing Director Kavneet Singh. “It is of paramount importance that Sikh Americans feel free to practice their faith freely and without fear. We would also like to thank the parents, players and coaching staff who came out in support of Harshaan’s right to play the game of soccer as well as Mr. Bennett, the President of the LVYSL for promptly responding to this incident and resolving it in a quick and progressive manner.” SALDEF encourages all Sikh Americans to demand equal and fair treatment in all situations. If you, your child or anyone you know has been affected by discrimination in your local area, please contact SALDEF immediately at email@example.com.