When should Sikhs get legal protection for religious belief?

An interesting case arose recently in Canada– Av Singh, a British Sikh, was fired from a Canadian company because his beard raised safety concerns relating to the proper use of a required gas mask.

sikh_alberta_job.jpgRemoving the beard is against his religious beliefs, so Singh refused the razor and instead hired a human-rights lawyer. [link]

The point that has raised controversy is the length of his beard- about 5 mm (pictured on the right). The objection has been raised by some that he isn’t entitled to protection, becuase he doesn’t keep a full beard.

Now, if this guy is just using religion as an excuse because it’s convenient, then this case is not so hard- religious protection for convenience de-legitimizes real cases of religious discrimination for people that are truly trying to follow and practice the faith. Maybe it won’t be too hard to figure out whether this guy is sincere or not (but maybe it will). But my concern, and the tension, in my eyes, is – where do we draw the line?

I don’t want to underestimate the importance of the physical appearance of a Sikh. But is anyone who doesn’t completely follow the Rehat undeserving of religious protection? Under that definition, there are few real Sikhs in the world, and many that are trying to follow the path want protection against discrimination at airports and on the streets. Why should protection for physical appearance be given over internal belief- just because it’s easier to discern?

The relevant Canadian standard was set forth in Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem which says (as quoted in the Multani case (kid fighting for right to wear a kirpan to school in Montreal)):

“The fact that different people practise the same religion in different ways does not affect the validity of the case of a person alleging that his or her freedom of religion has been infringed. What an individual must do is show that he or she sincerely believes that a certain belief or practice is required by his or her religion. The religious belief must be asserted in good faith and must not be fictitious, capricious or an artifice (Amselem, at para. 52). In assessing the sincerity of the belief, a court must take into account, inter alia, the credibility of the testimony of the person asserting the particular belief and the consistency of the belief with his or her other current religious practices (Amselem, at para. 53).” (Thanks P. Singh!)

An American case that might be on point:

“…litigated in New York City during the 1970’s or 1980’s 2001 concerning a Muslim waiter at a high end hotel. The hotel’s employees were required to dress in uniform, be well groomed, and be clean shaven. Upon his hiring, the waiter complied with these rules. But when he refused to regularly shave, sometimes coming in with stubble, sometimes not, he was fired. He sued, claiming religious discrimination. During the course of the litigation, he shaved once again. Islam is a widely recognized religion, so that wasn’t at issue. Rather, the court was tasked with the delicate proposition of determining whether the waiter was exercising genuinely held religious beliefs, and thus warranting protection from religious discrimination. Ultimately, it rejected his claims, relying in part on his lack of consistency in practicing Islam as it relates to maintaining a beard. He chose when he would shave and when he wouldn’t and cited religion when he was challenged.” (source: sizzle)

Now some might think, as sizzle does, that “the only guiding principle for the courts are the tenants of Sikhi, which mandate unshorn hair, unshorn beard and the turban. Even a more lenient standard would require a semblance of the symbols, a turban and a genuine, consistently maintained trimmed beard.”

But why these tenets and not others? If someone keeps the physical appearance, but drinks, what makes him/her more entitled to protection than someone who doesn’t keep his/her hair, but wants to one day and follows other internal tenets more closely than many keshdaris?


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28 Responses to “When should Sikhs get legal protection for religious belief?”

  1. P.Singh says:

    Reema, I think your questions touch upon a subject matter which is deeper and more complex than the rather banal answer I am proposing below – and I think these questions are excellent fodder for discussion.

    However, to directly answer your question without exploring the underlying themes – in general, I think the courts will explore each such incident on a 'case-by-case' matter, relying more on the particular facts than a hard and fast rule dictating religiousity.

    When we examine the 'protections' being sought, yes, these cases generally focus on 'protections' regarding external appearance, some form of physical activity, or action/inaction mandated by religion – some aspect of the religion which manifests itself in the physical world. Physical manifestations of religion are much more easily targeted in the physical world, especially the workplace, than internal thought processes.

    Taking your example above, an employer is much more likely to push forward policy restricting physical appearance, as opposed to policy restricting what its employees are allowed to aspire towards.

    I do not think it is a case of courts protecting the external over the internal, but rather, that most workplace incidents involving religious discriminiation overwhelmingly pertain to the external. I am sure the courts would offer the same protection to someone who was discriminated on the basis of their internally-held beliefs.

  2. P.Singh says:

    Reema, I think your questions touch upon a subject matter which is deeper and more complex than the rather banal answer I am proposing below – and I think these questions are excellent fodder for discussion.

    However, to directly answer your question without exploring the underlying themes – in general, I think the courts will explore each such incident on a ‘case-by-case’ matter, relying more on the particular facts than a hard and fast rule dictating religiousity.

    When we examine the ‘protections’ being sought, yes, these cases generally focus on ‘protections’ regarding external appearance, some form of physical activity, or action/inaction mandated by religion – some aspect of the religion which manifests itself in the physical world. Physical manifestations of religion are much more easily targeted in the physical world, especially the workplace, than internal thought processes.

    Taking your example above, an employer is much more likely to push forward policy restricting physical appearance, as opposed to policy restricting what its employees are allowed to aspire towards.

    I do not think it is a case of courts protecting the external over the internal, but rather, that most workplace incidents involving religious discriminiation overwhelmingly pertain to the external. I am sure the courts would offer the same protection to someone who was discriminated on the basis of their internally-held beliefs.

  3. baingandabhartha says:

    Its a ridiculous lawsuit. I hope he loses. His daRi is scraped closer than an olympic swimmers body. What a $%W#*@#

  4. Reema says:

    P. Singh- I'm glad that you pointed out the case by case system- that means that we don't have to draw a line which makes this less of an issue :)

    No need to bother with the harder questions then when there's an easy answer…

  5. Reema says:

    P. Singh- I’m glad that you pointed out the case by case system- that means that we don’t have to draw a line which makes this less of an issue :)

    No need to bother with the harder questions then when there’s an easy answer…

  6. sizzle says:

    This is a really long post – but this case and its issues demand an in depth analysis, especially given its publicity and the reactions it is garnering from Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. And what can I say, I’m really trying to distract myself from other work….

    As I think about it, there are two distinct points that are raised in Reema’s post. First, does Av Singh deserve legal protection from this apparent discrimination? Second, is outwardly appearance more significant than internal beliefs, and as Reema asks, where do we draw the line when making such a determinations, especially in regards to other less visible tenants of Sikhi such as a prohibition on drinking. In regards to this case, I will interpret this as asking, “Does Av Singh, with his stubble, deserve any more or less community support than a kesadhari Sikh in his shoes who happens to drink?”

    Asking these questions side by side tends to convolute the discussion – the former is a legal question to be determined by the courts, while the latter is a philosophical and political question to be determined by Sikhs. I’ll address them as such.

    I. Does Av Singh Deserve Legal Protection?

    Av Singh’s case is only in the news and before the courts because an element of his Sikh faith, manifested externally and physically, is in conflict with his employer’s rules. As it pertains to employees and employers, there is a very bright line between “internal beliefs” and “physical manifestations” of faith. Generally, internal beliefs have no impact on your job, whereas a turban, a beard, other religious garb, piercings, or whatever else a particular religion may require, may pose a safety threats or interfere with business. There are exceptions. One recent case involved an ardently catholic pharmacist who refused to dispense birth control to a pharmacy’s customers because doing so contradicted his religious beliefs. Further, employment lawyers are often kept busy with cases involving supervisors who proselytize on the job, thus creating a "hostile work environment" for subordinates. But, even those cases demonstrate internal beliefs being manifested in an outwardly manner, impacting performance and business in the same way as a religious symbol. Thus, it is very easy to draw the line when it involves employee-employer relations and subsequent lawsuits.

    I am not familiar with Canadian law, but from the cited case, it seems similar to American law and legal precedent. In addressing cases alleging religious discrimination, such as Av Singh's, American courts examine and answer three separate tests as an individual case may warrant:

    1) Determining whether a religion is genuine and what its doctrines entail

    2) Determining whether an adherent of a genuine religion is acting upon sincerely held religious beliefs

    3) Balancing “reasonable accommodation” of religious beliefs with “undue burden” upon an employer to make such accommodations.

    Applying these tests to Av Singh's case:

    1) Sikhism is accepted by American (and Canadian) courts as a genuine religion that requires adherents to keep their hair and wear a turban.

    2) This is where it gets a bit more tricky. As P.Singh pointed out, making such determinations requires a thorough case-by-case analysis.

    I want to be more precise about the hotel/Muslim case that is mentioned above, Hussein v. The Waldorf-Astoria, 134 F.Supp.2d 591 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (sorry, no available hotlink). In that case, the Waldorf required all employees to be clean shaven. Hussein came to work with 3-5 days of growth and refused to shave, citing his religion. The court engaged in a meticulous fact-finding expedition and determined that Hussein’s beliefs were not genuinely held. It ruled that the hotel had a good-faith basis to doubt his sincerity since he had never sported a beard during prior employment, may have grown the beard to spite the hotel's rules, had never discussed his religious beliefs, and shaved shortly after his termination. Further, Hussein did not even argue that keeping a beard was an element of his supposed Muslim beliefs. Aside from these findings of fact, the court made determinations relevant to future cases. It concluded that sincere religious beliefs are beliefs that cause adherents to engage in practices and actions that are consistent with the doctrines of a religion. If a person does not consistently act in accordance to the doctrines of a particular religion, then he cannot use religion as protection or an excuse for his actions.

    Hussein’s and Av Singh’s cases are distinguishable in several ways. Av Singh is obviously a Sikh, and a beard is an element of the Sikh faith. However, the consistency issue could prove problematic. Upon his hiring, his beard (if he had one) was close enough to clean shaven to pass his employer’s safety test. Within five weeks it was not, presumably the length that it is in the picture, if not longer. While this may seem trivial, such variations are apparently significant for the safe use of a mask. If his case were to go to trial in an American court, a court would likely scrutinize these inconsistencies and inevitably want to know why Av Singh grew his beard longer, and if trimmed it to a shorter length a short time later.

    3) But even if a U.S. court did not take issue with Av Singh’s beard's inconsistency, as it did in Hussein’s case, his case might not pass the next test, which balances reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs with the undue burden such beliefs may impose on employers. The legal precedent is not favorable for Av Singh. Here are a few cases, two relating to Sikh’s beards:

    Woods v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 420 F. Supp. 35 (E.D. Va. 1976): An employer can institute a no-beard policy since it served a legitimate business interest in maintaining an image of cleanliness to attract and retain customers.

    EEOC v. Sambo's of Georgia, Inc., 530 F. Supp. 86 (N.D. Geo. 1981): Requiring a restaurant to exempt a bearded Sikh job applicant from no-facial-hair policy would constitute undue hardship.

    Bhatia v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 734 F.2d 1382 (9th Cir. 1984): An employer can refuse to exempt a bearded Sikh employee from the requirement that all machinists be clean-shaven when the policy was based on the necessity of being able to wear a respirator with a gas-tight face seal.

    Cloutier v. Costco, 390 F.3d 126 (1st Cir. 2004): An employer had no duty to accommodate its sales employee's religious beliefs by exempting her from the company's dress code prohibiting all facial jewelry other than earrings, because to do so would impose an undue hardship on the employer and its image.

    The only case that is directly on point is Bhatia v. Chevron, and Av Singh would lose if a court were to follow the same rationale. The other cases are relevant because they also discuss the issue of religious accommodation of employees contrasted with an undue burden on employers. While the first two cases are relatively old and may have been decided differently in today’s multicultural society, they were still cited to support the opinion in the last case, which was decided a mere four years ago. Also, one would expect courts to be more accommodating of religious practice when it concerns a business’s image as opposed to an employee’s safety. And yet, the courts sided with the employers on their right to determine the aesthetics of their employees.

    I don’t necessarily condone these cases, and I am not arguing that Av Singh would certainly lose on points 2 and 3 had he filed his lawsuit in U.S. courts. But I’m not really advocating his case – I’m trying to objectively point out the reality and history of how cases like his are ajudicated. If I were to bet on the success of an identical, hypothetical U.S. case, I'd bet against the Sikh (or Hasidic Jew, or Muslim, or anyone else with a beard and had to wear a gas mask).

    II. Does Av Singh, with his stubble, deserve any more or less community support than a kesadhari Sikh in his shoes who happens to drink?

    Yes and no.

    As Reema points out, none of us are without our flaws. Further, none of us has the right to judge fellow Sikhs. We are who we are because of an infinite number of factors, and as Sikhi dictates, it is incumbent upon us to follow our personal path. Philosophically, we should support his desire to at least try to maintain the idenity, to practice Sikhi as he is able.

    As for political considerations, I take a different approach. As I stated at the beginning of this post, this case is garnering a lot publicity. As it progresses, it may only garner more. A cursory glance through the comments of the canada.com article reveals disgust at “multiculturalism gone amok,” as well knee-jerk defenses of his “rights,” irrespective of his inconsistencies and the company’s safety concerns. The case has become today’s rallying call for different sides of the political spectrum. Thus, there are obvious political considerations to Sikhs who might lend their unequivocal support.

    The Sikh community has fought hard for religious freedom, it fights to this day, and will continue to fight in a quest for recognition, equality, and respect. In choosing our battles, we must be cognizant of the social and political capital we expend every time an issue arises. With that in mind, this is not a case that deserves our energy. If Av Singh had a religious epiphany and began to grow his beard to full length, I would support fighting his case to the end, to find some sort of a position within the company that might not pose a safety concern. If Av Singh maintained a consistent beard in recognition of Sikhi and the his identity, again, I would support his fight. But if Av Singh's beard varies in length from month to month, enough to sometimes be compatible with masks (clean shaven or nearly clean shaven) and sometimes not (presumably his stubble in the picture), and we support his case demand for accommodation, what does that say about our religious standards to the greater community? What does that say about our consistency? What does that say about our reasonableness? But most significantly, how would the perception of our varying standards and consistency impact our future fights for religious recognition, freedom, mutual accommodation and acceptance? Supporting this particular case may weaken the Sikh community's position in the future, when genuine and consistently held articles of faith are under attack. These are very real and very significant political considerations that impact all Sikhs.

    There is no question that Canadian and American societies must accommodate religious freedom and expression. But as religious peoples, it behooves us to accommodate and recognize certain values of secular society, such as consistency and objective fairness for all parties. To grant religious protection to someone who apparently practices his faith on a whim, and then demands that others accommodate him at a high cost, is inconsistent with such values. Thus, championing our cause with this particular case is not prudent.

    But of course, we may not all agree….

  7. sizzle says:

    This is a really long post but this case and its issues demand an in depth analysis, especially given its publicity and the reactions it is garnering from Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. And what can I say, Im really trying to distract myself from other work….

    As I think about it, there are two distinct points that are raised in Reemas post. First, does Av Singh deserve legal protection from this apparent discrimination? Second, is outwardly appearance more significant than internal beliefs, and as Reema asks, where do we draw the line when making such a determinations, especially in regards to other less visible tenants of Sikhi such as a prohibition on drinking. In regards to this case, I will interpret this as asking, Does Av Singh, with his stubble, deserve any more or less community support than a kesadhari Sikh in his shoes who happens to drink?

    Asking these questions side by side tends to convolute the discussion the former is a legal question to be determined by the courts, while the latter is a philosophical and political question to be determined by Sikhs. Ill address them as such.

    I. Does Av Singh Deserve Legal Protection?

    Av Singhs case is only in the news and before the courts because an element of his Sikh faith, manifested externally and physically, is in conflict with his employers rules. As it pertains to employees and employers, there is a very bright line between internal beliefs and physical manifestations of faith. Generally, internal beliefs have no impact on your job, whereas a turban, a beard, other religious garb, piercings, or whatever else a particular religion may require, may pose a safety threats or interfere with business. There are exceptions. One recent case involved an ardently catholic pharmacist who refused to dispense birth control to a pharmacys customers because doing so contradicted his religious beliefs. Further, employment lawyers are often kept busy with cases involving supervisors who proselytize on the job, thus creating a “hostile work environment” for subordinates. But, even those cases demonstrate internal beliefs being manifested in an outwardly manner, impacting performance and business in the same way as a religious symbol. Thus, it is very easy to draw the line when it involves employee-employer relations and subsequent lawsuits.

    I am not familiar with Canadian law, but from the cited case, it seems similar to American law and legal precedent. In addressing cases alleging religious discrimination, such as Av Singh’s, American courts examine and answer three separate tests as an individual case may warrant:
    1) Determining whether a religion is genuine and what its doctrines entail
    2) Determining whether an adherent of a genuine religion is acting upon sincerely held religious beliefs
    3) Balancing reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs with undue burden upon an employer to make such accommodations.

    Applying these tests to Av Singh’s case:
    1) Sikhism is accepted by American (and Canadian) courts as a genuine religion that requires adherents to keep their hair and wear a turban.
    2) This is where it gets a bit more tricky. As P.Singh pointed out, making such determinations requires a thorough case-by-case analysis.

    I want to be more precise about the hotel/Muslim case that is mentioned above, Hussein v. The Waldorf-Astoria, 134 F.Supp.2d 591 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (sorry, no available hotlink). In that case, the Waldorf required all employees to be clean shaven. Hussein came to work with 3-5 days of growth and refused to shave, citing his religion. The court engaged in a meticulous fact-finding expedition and determined that Husseins beliefs were not genuinely held. It ruled that the hotel had a good-faith basis to doubt his sincerity since he had never sported a beard during prior employment, may have grown the beard to spite the hotel’s rules, had never discussed his religious beliefs, and shaved shortly after his termination. Further, Hussein did not even argue that keeping a beard was an element of his supposed Muslim beliefs. Aside from these findings of fact, the court made determinations relevant to future cases. It concluded that sincere religious beliefs are beliefs that cause adherents to engage in practices and actions that are consistent with the doctrines of a religion. If a person does not consistently act in accordance to the doctrines of a particular religion, then he cannot use religion as protection or an excuse for his actions.

    Husseins and Av Singhs cases are distinguishable in several ways. Av Singh is obviously a Sikh, and a beard is an element of the Sikh faith. However, the consistency issue could prove problematic. Upon his hiring, his beard (if he had one) was close enough to clean shaven to pass his employers safety test. Within five weeks it was not, presumably the length that it is in the picture, if not longer. While this may seem trivial, such variations are apparently significant for the safe use of a mask. If his case were to go to trial in an American court, a court would likely scrutinize these inconsistencies and inevitably want to know why Av Singh grew his beard longer, and if trimmed it to a shorter length a short time later.

    3) But even if a U.S. court did not take issue with Av Singhs beard’s inconsistency, as it did in Husseins case, his case might not pass the next test, which balances reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs with the undue burden such beliefs may impose on employers. The legal precedent is not favorable for Av Singh. Here are a few cases, two relating to Sikhs beards:
    Woods v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 420 F. Supp. 35 (E.D. Va. 1976): An employer can institute a no-beard policy since it served a legitimate business interest in maintaining an image of cleanliness to attract and retain customers.
    EEOC v. Sambo’s of Georgia, Inc., 530 F. Supp. 86 (N.D. Geo. 1981): Requiring a restaurant to exempt a bearded Sikh job applicant from no-facial-hair policy would constitute undue hardship.
    Bhatia v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 734 F.2d 1382 (9th Cir. 1984): An employer can refuse to exempt a bearded Sikh employee from the requirement that all machinists be clean-shaven when the policy was based on the necessity of being able to wear a respirator with a gas-tight face seal.
    Cloutier v. Costco, 390 F.3d 126 (1st Cir. 2004): An employer had no duty to accommodate its sales employee’s religious beliefs by exempting her from the company’s dress code prohibiting all facial jewelry other than earrings, because to do so would impose an undue hardship on the employer and its image.

    The only case that is directly on point is Bhatia v. Chevron, and Av Singh would lose if a court were to follow the same rationale. The other cases are relevant because they also discuss the issue of religious accommodation of employees contrasted with an undue burden on employers. While the first two cases are relatively old and may have been decided differently in todays multicultural society, they were still cited to support the opinion in the last case, which was decided a mere four years ago. Also, one would expect courts to be more accommodating of religious practice when it concerns a businesss image as opposed to an employees safety. And yet, the courts sided with the employers on their right to determine the aesthetics of their employees.

    I dont necessarily condone these cases, and I am not arguing that Av Singh would certainly lose on points 2 and 3 had he filed his lawsuit in U.S. courts. But Im not really advocating his case Im trying to objectively point out the reality and history of how cases like his are ajudicated. If I were to bet on the success of an identical, hypothetical U.S. case, I’d bet against the Sikh (or Hasidic Jew, or Muslim, or anyone else with a beard and had to wear a gas mask).

    II. Does Av Singh, with his stubble, deserve any more or less community support than a kesadhari Sikh in his shoes who happens to drink?

    Yes and no.

    As Reema points out, none of us are without our flaws. Further, none of us has the right to judge fellow Sikhs. We are who we are because of an infinite number of factors, and as Sikhi dictates, it is incumbent upon us to follow our personal path. Philosophically, we should support his desire to at least try to maintain the idenity, to practice Sikhi as he is able.

    As for political considerations, I take a different approach. As I stated at the beginning of this post, this case is garnering a lot publicity. As it progresses, it may only garner more. A cursory glance through the comments of the canada.com article reveals disgust at multiculturalism gone amok, as well knee-jerk defenses of his rights, irrespective of his inconsistencies and the companys safety concerns. The case has become todays rallying call for different sides of the political spectrum. Thus, there are obvious political considerations to Sikhs who might lend their unequivocal support.

    The Sikh community has fought hard for religious freedom, it fights to this day, and will continue to fight in a quest for recognition, equality, and respect. In choosing our battles, we must be cognizant of the social and political capital we expend every time an issue arises. With that in mind, this is not a case that deserves our energy. If Av Singh had a religious epiphany and began to grow his beard to full length, I would support fighting his case to the end, to find some sort of a position within the company that might not pose a safety concern. If Av Singh maintained a consistent beard in recognition of Sikhi and the his identity, again, I would support his fight. But if Av Singh’s beard varies in length from month to month, enough to sometimes be compatible with masks (clean shaven or nearly clean shaven) and sometimes not (presumably his stubble in the picture), and we support his case demand for accommodation, what does that say about our religious standards to the greater community? What does that say about our consistency? What does that say about our reasonableness? But most significantly, how would the perception of our varying standards and consistency impact our future fights for religious recognition, freedom, mutual accommodation and acceptance? Supporting this particular case may weaken the Sikh community’s position in the future, when genuine and consistently held articles of faith are under attack. These are very real and very significant political considerations that impact all Sikhs.

    There is no question that Canadian and American societies must accommodate religious freedom and expression. But as religious peoples, it behooves us to accommodate and recognize certain values of secular society, such as consistency and objective fairness for all parties. To grant religious protection to someone who apparently practices his faith on a whim, and then demands that others accommodate him at a high cost, is inconsistent with such values. Thus, championing our cause with this particular case is not prudent.

    But of course, we may not all agree….

  8. Suki says:

    A cursory glance through the comments of the canada.com article reveals disgust at “multiculturalism gone amok,” as well knee-jerk defenses of his “rights,”

    They were the same comments during the whole Bruce Allen thing, the same for Laibir Singh not being deported, the same for the motorcyle helmet case, the same for the whole kids wearing the khalistan t-shirts and on and on.

    And of course a few people with the name singh responded with same comments all the time about this is the native lands and if you don't like multicultrism then leave, and of course the always funny white culture is about white priests raping kids.

  9. Suki says:

    A cursory glance through the comments of the canada.com article reveals disgust at multiculturalism gone amok, as well knee-jerk defenses of his rights,

    They were the same comments during the whole Bruce Allen thing, the same for Laibir Singh not being deported, the same for the motorcyle helmet case, the same for the whole kids wearing the khalistan t-shirts and on and on.

    And of course a few people with the name singh responded with same comments all the time about this is the native lands and if you don’t like multicultrism then leave, and of course the always funny white culture is about white priests raping kids.

  10. baingandabhartha says:

    Its a ridiculous lawsuit. I hope he loses. His daRi is scraped closer than an olympic swimmers body. What a $%W#*@#

  11. GS Mangat says:

    I think this is not a relegious issue. The issue here is his look or style. If AV is a Puran Sikh, I would support his law-suit. He trims his beared and puts his turban on. This case should never be treated as Religious discrimination. Just an other excuse to keep his non-sikh style. Rediculous.

    AV singh, how could you ask for religious protection, when you are not even with full Darri.

  12. GS Mangat says:

    I think this is not a relegious issue. The issue here is his look or style. If AV is a Puran Sikh, I would support his law-suit. He trims his beared and puts his turban on. This case should never be treated as Religious discrimination. Just an other excuse to keep his non-sikh style. Rediculous.

    AV singh, how could you ask for religious protection, when you are not even with full Darri.

  13. sizzle says:

    I was discussing this case with a friend, and wanted to clarify something.

    One way that Av Singh or any Sikh in his similar position could overcome Step 3 of the above legal analysis is if he were to propose wearing a hood rather than a mask. It is a clear alternative, accommodates religious beliefs, and the "undue burden" would depend on the cost – something which would need to be calculated, and perhaps even split amongst the employer and employee.

    As to some of the other comments – as Reema asked from the outset – where do we draw the line in offering our fellow Sikhs support? None of us are perfect.

    Think for a moment of this hypothetical. Imagine a Sikh with a turban and an inch long beard (instead of stubble or a full beard) applied to work at a factory that had machinery and long hair posed a safety threat. But the women with long hair all kept their hair in tight buns, and the men all had hair that was 1-2 inches long. The Sikh is denied a job because the manager says his beard is a safety concern.

    That is obvious bullsh*t. An inch long beard is no more or less safe than the women's' hair in a bun or men with 1-2 inch long hair.

    To you guys saying a Sikh deserves NO protection because he trims – you wouldn't support a Sikh in this situation? He may not be a paka sardar, but he is a Sikh. He is still out there representing Sikhs with the turban and the beard he wishes or is able to maintain. He definitely deserves our full support.

    Legally, how is that different from Av Singh's case? First, Av Singh is (apparently) less consistent, which leads to more difficult legal analysis in light of U.S. laws. Second, Av Singh is trying to maintain a beard where a clean shaven (or nearly clean shaven) rule is in place for very real safety concerns – wearing a mask. We have to accept that the beard does interfere with certain things (again, perhaps a hood would have solved this hold problem).

    Politically thinking, if Av Singh, with his varying length beard, were to take his case to the public and to the courts and get slapped down (which in America, there's a good chance), that sets a very bad precedent for all Sikhs coming behind him, since often times, the details of a fight (like the consistency or the length of his beard) are lost and only the decision stands. If he had a beard of consistent length, if he had worked there for some time, or if he had proposed alternatives for his safety (like a hood) that would NOT place an undue burden on his employers….then, maybe his case would have been worth championing because it has a better chance of winning and irrespective of the consequences, is more worth fighting.

  14. sizzle says:

    I was discussing this case with a friend, and wanted to clarify something.

    One way that Av Singh or any Sikh in his similar position could overcome Step 3 of the above legal analysis is if he were to propose wearing a hood rather than a mask. It is a clear alternative, accommodates religious beliefs, and the “undue burden” would depend on the cost – something which would need to be calculated, and perhaps even split amongst the employer and employee.

    As to some of the other comments – as Reema asked from the outset – where do we draw the line in offering our fellow Sikhs support? None of us are perfect.

    Think for a moment of this hypothetical. Imagine a Sikh with a turban and an inch long beard (instead of stubble or a full beard) applied to work at a factory that had machinery and long hair posed a safety threat. But the women with long hair all kept their hair in tight buns, and the men all had hair that was 1-2 inches long. The Sikh is denied a job because the manager says his beard is a safety concern.

    That is obvious bullsh*t. An inch long beard is no more or less safe than the women’s’ hair in a bun or men with 1-2 inch long hair.

    To you guys saying a Sikh deserves NO protection because he trims – you wouldn’t support a Sikh in this situation? He may not be a paka sardar, but he is a Sikh. He is still out there representing Sikhs with the turban and the beard he wishes or is able to maintain. He definitely deserves our full support.

    Legally, how is that different from Av Singh’s case? First, Av Singh is (apparently) less consistent, which leads to more difficult legal analysis in light of U.S. laws. Second, Av Singh is trying to maintain a beard where a clean shaven (or nearly clean shaven) rule is in place for very real safety concerns – wearing a mask. We have to accept that the beard does interfere with certain things (again, perhaps a hood would have solved this hold problem).

    Politically thinking, if Av Singh, with his varying length beard, were to take his case to the public and to the courts and get slapped down (which in America, there’s a good chance), that sets a very bad precedent for all Sikhs coming behind him, since often times, the details of a fight (like the consistency or the length of his beard) are lost and only the decision stands. If he had a beard of consistent length, if he had worked there for some time, or if he had proposed alternatives for his safety (like a hood) that would NOT place an undue burden on his employers….then, maybe his case would have been worth championing because it has a better chance of winning and irrespective of the consequences, is more worth fighting.

  15. sukhpal says:

    I don't understand what all this useless discussion is about. This is a single person that beliefs in growing his bread to whatever length. The employer has choosen to not let the sikh person practice his religion to his understanding.

    It would be no different than a sikh asking to wear a kara or pug without asking for a kirpan.

  16. sukhpal says:

    I don’t understand what all this useless discussion is about. This is a single person that beliefs in growing his bread to whatever length. The employer has choosen to not let the sikh person practice his religion to his understanding.

    It would be no different than a sikh asking to wear a kara or pug without asking for a kirpan.

  17. jeet says:

    With the facts given (Av Singh is not consistent with his beard length), I'm curious to see how many people here would support Av Singh's case. Sizzle is proposing that our community should be cautious on the causes we take on, a valid point, but which could further weaken our existing contentious community.

  18. jeet says:

    With the facts given (Av Singh is not consistent with his beard length), I’m curious to see how many people here would support Av Singh’s case. Sizzle is proposing that our community should be cautious on the causes we take on, a valid point, but which could further weaken our existing contentious community.

  19. sizzle says:

    i don't know if this is a point worth picking on….but, i it touches on a broader issue, the idea of – MUTUAL accommodation. if we expect secular societies and businesses to change their ways/rules to accommodate religion, religious peoples sometimes have to make some level of sacrifice, don't we? this isn't even a complex issue – it is safety. it is how things work: a gas mask is not compatible with a beard (forget av singh, any beard).

    but a hood, which assures a seal where a mask would fail because a beard is involved, is demeaning? because the KKK and soldiers at Guantanamo used hoods? regardless of the fact that hooded gas masks are in everyday use in labs and other facilities across the world? but because there might be some "racial sensitivities" attached to the very concept of a hood, it wouldn't fly? so, where is the mutual accommodation I was just talking about? how else could a company accommodate? have you sign a waiver and let you take the risk?

    to be especially blunt, i think that's absurd. i think a hood would have solved this entire problem. to illustrate the idea of "mutual accommodation" and sacrifice:

    company: av, your beard is too long, it's not safe with our current gas masks, we need to ask you to shave or trim it down to minmal length.

    av: it's my religion.

    company: yea, we understand – but, it's not safe. the beard prevents a seal from forming around your face, you can be severely injured or killed, and not to sound crass, but that opens us up to tremendous liability as well. it's a hard fast rule – anyone who wears masks has to pass the safety test.

    av: but i passed before.

    company: we know – that's why we ask that you trim your beard to the previous length.

    av: it's my religion. i really want to keep it at this length.

    company: well, that's not going to fly, av. this isn't about your religion, it's about rules that ensure the safety of our employees.

    av: is there anything i can do? maybe put duct tape around my face? that'll seal it.

    company: oh, wait, that reminds me, there's an easier solution. many companies manufacture "hooded style" gas masks that seal around the neck instead of around the face. they are a little more uncomfortable and might get a little hotter, but, people use them every day, and it wont interfere with your beard.

    av: what do these masks look like?

    company: well, funny you ask – here's a link with a picture . now a commercial model that meets our rigorous safety standards might be a little different, but that's the idea.

    av: i have to wear a hood? it doesn't look as comfortable…i might sweat and i have to look through plastic. i also find it a bit demeaning. i mean, guantanamo! the KKK! there were hoods involved!!

    company: look. av. we understand that a hood is not as comfortable as a regular mask, and there might be some tangential associations related to hoods. but, it's either the hood or you trim. there is no other option unless you want to work out of the field – which we can assign you to as well. but if you want to stay in the field, you have to be safe. we have to be safe. we have to be sure that there is a seal around your mask, and right now the beard isn't permitting that. you don't want to trim, that's fine. we understand and respect your religion. we're willing to accommdate your religion. but the only option to stay out there where the chemicals are is to wear a hood like this one, albeit a commercial model. it will seal around your neck, so you can keep your beard. we're even willing to spend the $500 to special order it for you. we don't do that for anyone! everyone else is required to shave, and we issue the standard mask. but because we understand you want to follow your faith, we'll get you this hood so you can keep the beard, and even grow it longer if you want! is that cool?

    how does av singh (or any sikh) respond?

    take the hood.

  20. Reema says:

    Jeet,

    What an individual must do is show that he or she sincerely believes that a certain belief or practice is required by his or her religion. The religious belief must be asserted in good faith and must not be fictitious, capricious or an artifice (Amselem, at para. 52). In assessing the sincerity of the belief, a court must take into account, inter alia, the credibility of the testimony of the person asserting the particular belief and the consistency of the belief with his or her other current religious practices..

    If even a Canadian judge can consider Av Singh's beliefs- whether he actually is trying to grow his hair+beard because of a sincere belief in Sikhi, then I would hope that the Sikh community could also give him that benefit. (Though those outside a community often don't understand the divisions within…)

    If he's just using the existing law for convenience, then he shouldn't get the support of the Sikh community because his case would make it harder for Sikhs who sincerely need religious protection by creating a distrust of cases brought by Sikhs.

    But if he's sincerely trying to follow Sikhi, and trying to grow his hair, then I would support him. If the legal protection available depends on the beliefs of the individual, then for these cases, we shouldn't let existing internal divisions thwart available redress for grievances.

    We'll find out whether he's sincere or not during his testimony.

    Sizzle, though I appreciate your attempt to look for alternatives, I think the idea of a "hood" is extremely demeaning- hoods are incredibly restricting and uncomfortable, not to mention that they trigger associations with mistreatement of prisoners in Guantanamo and acts committed by the KKK. I think it would be possible to come up with less restrictive alternatives like longer gas masks that simply cover the beard, but leave the eyes and nose open to breathe. Again, your point of looking for alternatives is a good one, I just don't like the idea of a hood.

  21. Reema says:

    Jeet,

    What an individual must do is show that he or she sincerely believes that a certain belief or practice is required by his or her religion. The religious belief must be asserted in good faith and must not be fictitious, capricious or an artifice (Amselem, at para. 52). In assessing the sincerity of the belief, a court must take into account, inter alia, the credibility of the testimony of the person asserting the particular belief and the consistency of the belief with his or her other current religious practices..

    If even a Canadian judge can consider Av Singh’s beliefs- whether he actually is trying to grow his hair+beard because of a sincere belief in Sikhi, then I would hope that the Sikh community could also give him that benefit. (Though those outside a community often don’t understand the divisions within…)

    If he’s just using the existing law for convenience, then he shouldn’t get the support of the Sikh community because his case would make it harder for Sikhs who sincerely need religious protection by creating a distrust of cases brought by Sikhs.

    But if he’s sincerely trying to follow Sikhi, and trying to grow his hair, then I would support him. If the legal protection available depends on the beliefs of the individual, then for these cases, we shouldn’t let existing internal divisions thwart available redress for grievances.

    We’ll find out whether he’s sincere or not during his testimony.

    Sizzle, though I appreciate your attempt to look for alternatives, I think the idea of a “hood” is extremely demeaning- hoods are incredibly restricting and uncomfortable, not to mention that they trigger associations with mistreatement of prisoners in Guantanamo and acts committed by the KKK. I think it would be possible to come up with less restrictive alternatives like longer gas masks that simply cover the beard, but leave the eyes and nose open to breathe. Again, your point of looking for alternatives is a good one, I just don’t like the idea of a hood.

  22. sizzle says:

    i don't know if this is a point worth picking on….but, i it touches on a broader issue, the idea of – MUTUAL accommodation. if we expect secular societies and businesses to change their ways/rules to accommodate religion, religious peoples sometimes have to make some level of sacrifice, don't we? this isn't even a complex issue – it is safety. it is how things work: a gas mask is not compatible with a beard (forget av singh, any beard).

    but a hood, which assures a seal where a mask would fail because a beard is involved, is demeaning? because the KKK and soldiers at Guantanamo used hoods? regardless of the fact that hooded gas masks are in everyday use in labs and other facilities across the world? but because there might be some "racial sensitivities" attached to the very concept of a hood, it wouldn't fly? so, where is the mutual accommodation I was just talking about? how else could a company accommodate? have you sign a waiver and let you take the risk?

    to be especially blunt, i think that's absurd. i think a hood would have solved this entire problem. to illustrate the idea of "mutual accommodation" and sacrifice:

    company: av, your beard is too long, it's not safe with our current gas masks, we need to ask you to shave or trim it down to minmal length.

    av: it's my religion.

    company: yea, we understand – but, it's not safe. the beard prevents a seal from forming around your face, you can be severely injured or killed, and not to sound crass, but that opens us up to tremendous liability as well. it's a hard fast rule – anyone who wears masks has to pass the safety test.

    av: but i passed before.

    company: we know – that's why we ask that you trim your beard to the previous length.

    av: it's my religion. i really want to keep it at this length.

    company: well, that's not going to fly, av. this isn't about your religion, it's about rules that ensure the safety of our employees.

    av: is there anything i can do? maybe put duct tape around my face? that'll seal it.

    company: oh, wait, that reminds me, there's an easier solution. many companies manufacture "hooded style" gas masks that seal around the neck instead of around the face. they are a little more uncomfortable and might get a little hotter, but, people use them every day, and it wont interfere with your beard.

    av: what do these masks look like?

    company: well, funny you ask – here's a link with a picture . now a commercial model that meets our rigorous safety standards might be a little different, but that's the idea.

    av: i have to wear a hood? it doesn't look as comfortable…i might sweat and i have to look through plastic. i also find it a bit demeaning. i mean, guantanamo! the KKK! there were hoods involved!!

    company: look. av. we understand that a hood is not as comfortable as a regular mask, and there might be some tangential associations related to hoods. but, it's either the hood or you trim. there is no other option unless you want to work out of the field – which we can assign you to as well. but if you want to stay in the field, you have to be safe. we have to be safe. we have to be sure that there is a seal around your mask, and right now the beard isn't permitting that. you don't want to trim, that's fine. we understand and respect your religion. we're willing to accommdate your religion. but the only option to stay out there where the chemicals are is to wear a hood like this one, albeit a commercial model. it will seal around your neck, so you can keep your beard. we're even willing to spend the $500 to special order it for you. we don't do that for anyone! everyone else is required to shave, and we issue the standard mask. but because we understand you want to follow your faith, we'll get you this hood so you can keep the beard, and even grow it longer if you want! is that cool?

    how does av singh (or any sikh) respond?

    take the hood.

  23. sizzle says:

    I think it would be possible to come up with less restrictive alternatives like longer gas masks that simply cover the beard, but leave the eyes and nose open to breathe.

    oh – sorry, i glossed over that you wrote that. i just spent a bit of time researching online, and am not able to find the sort of "long mask" you refer to, or how it would even function. any mask seals around the face where a beard grows, and no mask keeps the nose "open to breathe." indeed, that would defeat the point of a mask!

    see: http://www.asanltr.com/ASANews-97/Respirator_hood

    anyways….i think my above post, illustrating the idea of mutual accommodation, still stands. but, just wanted to clarify that.

    also, some additional news on the beard and religious accommodation front:
    http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/US-companhttp://worldsikhnews.com/18%20June%202008/Disney%http://www.topix.com/forum/news/weird/TTQVFKI1MMQ

    this can be debated ad infinitum.

  24. sizzle says:

    I think it would be possible to come up with less restrictive alternatives like longer gas masks that simply cover the beard, but leave the eyes and nose open to breathe.

    oh – sorry, i glossed over that you wrote that. i just spent a bit of time researching online, and am not able to find the sort of “long mask” you refer to, or how it would even function. any mask seals around the face where a beard grows, and no mask keeps the nose “open to breathe.” indeed, that would defeat the point of a mask!
    see: http://www.asanltr.com/ASANews-97/Respirator_hood.html

    anyways….i think my above post, illustrating the idea of mutual accommodation, still stands. but, just wanted to clarify that.

    also, some additional news on the beard and religious accommodation front:
    http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/US-company-sued-for-asking-Sikh-to-shave-off-his-beard/330299/
    http://worldsikhnews.com/18%20June%202008/Disney%20sued%20by%20Sikh%20over%20worker%20dress%20code.htm
    http://www.topix.com/forum/news/weird/TTQVFKI1MMQAEL9TD

    this can be debated ad infinitum.

  25. Dr Andrew says:

    i would like to know what has happened to Av Singh as he was abused by Transalther and wrongly treated !!!!

  26. Dr Andrew says:

    i would like to know what has happened to Av Singh as he was abused by Transalther and wrongly treated !!!!

  27. avmf8 says:

    If someone has a religion to not shave there beard why are they in a job that requires the use of a mask that needs to seal where a beard happens to be? They are not doing it to him to be a bigot it is simply for the good of his health. Though really they should just have him sigh a waiver where if he wears a mask with a beard its his problem if he develops lung problems.

    I see this allot people calling something discrimination when its not. A good example is hiring someone for customer support over the phone with a speech impediment. It prevents them from doing a proper job so they should have different employment.

    Really though I think that guy already broke his religion by trimming the beard at all.

  28. avmf8 says:

    If someone has a religion to not shave there beard why are they in a job that requires the use of a mask that needs to seal where a beard happens to be? They are not doing it to him to be a bigot it is simply for the good of his health. Though really they should just have him sigh a waiver where if he wears a mask with a beard its his problem if he develops lung problems.

    I see this allot people calling something discrimination when its not. A good example is hiring someone for customer support over the phone with a speech impediment. It prevents them from doing a proper job so they should have different employment.

    Really though I think that guy already broke his religion by trimming the beard at all.