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SALDEF National Park Service Apologizes To Sikh

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Jun 1, 2004
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Washington D.C., June 7, 2006 – The National Park Service has apologized to Gurvinderpal Singh and his other Sikh American friends for the inappropriate actions of the security staff at the Statue of Liberty in January 2006. In response to a complaint of harassment and misconduct filed by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the National Park Service (NPS) will be conducting cultural awareness training about Sikhs for their supervisors and staff. In her response to SALDEF’s complaint, NPS Regional Director Mary Bomar apologized “for any mistreatment of Mr. Gurvinderpal Singh and his colleagues”, and indicated how their security policy “does not excuse a disrespectful attitude on the part of our staff.” Additionally, Director Bomar wrote that, “We demand a high standard for all who work at the Statue of Liberty and the need for sensitivity to different cultural and religious beliefs is paramount. Anything less than a respectful attitude is totally unacceptable.”
On January 16, 2006 during a visit to the Statue of Liberty, Mr. Gurvinderpal Singh and eight fellow Sikh Americans were harassed by security personnel for wearing their kirpans – a religious article of faith – and “appearing suspicious”.
Upon entering the security gates, the group was initially worried about wearing their kirpans and calmly inquired as to what they should do with their articles of faith. The security guards immediately became hostile and told them they would not be allowed to pass through with their kirpans and told them that the kirpans could not be left in the guard’s possession because they would be confiscated.

The group eventually left the security gates to place their kirpans in their vehicle; however, when they came back and attempted to go through the security gates, the nine Sikh Americans were harassed and treated like criminals.
According to Gurvinderpal Singh’s account of the incident, “I took off my kirpan, and when I gave it to my friend to put it in the car I felt as if a part of me had died and I felt like breaking down and crying. I was eaten up with guilt.”
These nine Sikh Americans were denied the ability to practice their faith freely and openly. Furthermore, the National Park Service security guards became hostile towards the group; treating them with suspicion and as criminals. Feeling humiliated by this treatment, Gurvinderpal Singh contacted SALDEF to address this incident of harassment.

In a letter addressed to the National Parks Service Director and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, SALDEF noted that, “[c]onstitutionally, United States citizens have the right to free exercise of religion and any act of discrimination must undergo strict scrutiny. Though in this time of heightened security, measures can and certainly must be taken to prevent terrorist attacks, such hostile action should not be directed towards innocent people who are cooperative and transparent about their role as tourists. The Sikh Americans in this case were aboveboard with the information that they were Sikhs and were wearing their articles of faith. They were obliging in removing their Kirpan, an article of faith, to avoid possible violation of the security system, regardless of the emotional distress that it caused them to do so.”

Along with the apology, NPS has agreed to work with US Department of Justice Community Relations Service and SALDEF to conduct separate Sikh cultural awareness trainings for the 100 supervisors in charge of security at other tourist attractions in the New York City/New Jersey area. This is a vital step in the continued protection of the 25 million Sikhs across the world who may visit New York City as tourists.

The National Parks Service has undertaken a formal investigation into the incident in question and has said they will take appropriate actions with specific individuals.

If you or anyone you know have been the victim of a similar incident or have experienced harassment of some kind, please contact SALDEF immediately so that the Sikh American can continue living without fear.

PLEASE distribute this to your family, friends and at the local Gurdwara.
 

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