Australian School Apologizes for Denying Sikh Admission

An Australian private school has agreed to apologize to a Sikh boy who was denied admission for his refusal to cut his hair and shave (as required by the school dress code). Surprisingly, this is the first time Australia has faced an anti-discrimination case of this nature:

The Anti-Discrimination Tribunal case was the first of its kind involving a Sikh student in Australia, although a British court found in a favour of a Sikh student in a similar trial more than 25 years ago.

An out-of-court settlement was reached in recent weeks after the school agreed to issue a public apology and pay the family undisclosed compensation. Ormiston College yesterday confirmed the settlement, which thwarts a public trial in the tribunal next month.

Australia has a system of minority rights protection that falls broadly under the “multiculturalist” umbrella (albeit in a very different way from the U.K. model). What I find amazing is the broad steps private schools are taking at this juncture to avoid accommodating religious minorities. Like the Sarika Singh case (also involving a private school), both of these schools are, at this point, familiar with its own Sikh community. Cultural competency and latent racism aren’t really compelling or effective screens for bigoted policies. In both cases, families had to turn to a legal remedy (and legal fees) to ensure access to a high quality education for their children.

There’s been a backlash around religious diversity in Western Europe for a while now, with the idea of “secularism” taking on a distinctly anti-religious (or, in most cases, anti-non-Christian-religions) flavor that isn’t really echoed in American conceptualizations of secularism. Do these two school cases mark the beginning of a reaffirmation of the principles underlying anti-discrimination laws? Is this a distinct position from what we see in France, Germany, Turkey and Italy?


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5 Responses to “Australian School Apologizes for Denying Sikh Admission”

  1. karam says:

    what I find amazing….

    is that in the modern world we still pay such obeisance to the 'requirements' of religious practice.

    It is very good to accommodate people, but if we are going to be doing accommodating there are very many better things than religions to accommodate.

    The backlash is not about diversity it is about religion. The diversity of religions helps to show what a problem they all are. True anti-discrimination would rule out treating people from different religions differently.

  2. karam says:

    what I find amazing….

    is that in the modern world we still pay such obeisance to the ‘requirements’ of religious practice.
    It is very good to accommodate people, but if we are going to be doing accommodating there are very many better things than religions to accommodate.
    The backlash is not about diversity it is about religion. The diversity of religions helps to show what a problem they all are. True anti-discrimination would rule out treating people from different religions differently.

  3. P.Singh says:

    Karam, you wrote:

    what I find amazing….

    is that in the modern world we still pay such obeisance to the ‘requirements’ of religious practice.

    Why is that "amazing"? If individuals prescribe to particular religions, and wish to obey the dictates of their own individual faith, then they should have the freedom to do so.

    It is very good to accommodate people, but if we are going to be doing accommodating there are very many better things than religions to accommodate.

    This is why most democratic and "modern" states have legislation mandating accommodation on many different grounds, including sex, race, color, age, mental/physical disability and religion. What makes you think other "better things" are not being accomodated?

    The backlash is not about diversity it is about religion.

    Incorrect. If the student was Christian, there would have been no issue. One, the student was a Sikh and his adherence to the Sikh faith required that he not cut his hair or shave his beard. Two, the school's requirements, while not instituted to target Sikhs, had the effect of targetting Sikhs. Three, the school's requirements effectively disallow Sikh students from enrolling, thus constituting adverse effect discrimination. The school's requirements do NOT encourage diversity.

    The diversity of religions helps to show what a problem they all are.

    Indeed. The same holds true for all the pesky diversity of different races, colors, cultures, languages, political ideas, philosohical beliefs – and what's up with women in the workforce?

    True anti-discrimination would rule out treating people from different religions differently.

    No it would not, and courts in most democratic, "modern" states disagree with your sentiment. If you think it out more carefully, you'll understand why your argument is flawed.

    Keep in mind, most democratic states include freedom from religious obligations as part and parcel of freedom of religion – which should be of comfort to you, if you are worried about having any obligations thrust upon yourself. However, most such states would also agree with Canadian jurisprudence that freedom of religion includes

    "the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, the right to declare religious beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest religious belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination." R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., [1985] 1 S.C.R. 295

    The school did the right thing in accommodating the Sikh student, and not enforcing its discriminatory requirements.

  4. P.Singh says:

    Karam, you wrote:

    what I find amazing.

    is that in the modern world we still pay such obeisance to the requirements of religious practice.

    Why is that “amazing”? If individuals prescribe to particular religions, and wish to obey the dictates of their own individual faith, then they should have the freedom to do so.

    It is very good to accommodate people, but if we are going to be doing accommodating there are very many better things than religions to accommodate.

    This is why most democratic and “modern” states have legislation mandating accommodation on many different grounds, including sex, race, color, age, mental/physical disability and religion. What makes you think other “better things” are not being accomodated?

    The backlash is not about diversity it is about religion.

    Incorrect. If the student was Christian, there would have been no issue. One, the student was a Sikh and his adherence to the Sikh faith required that he not cut his hair or shave his beard. Two, the school’s requirements, while not instituted to target Sikhs, had the effect of targetting Sikhs. Three, the school’s requirements effectively disallow Sikh students from enrolling, thus constituting adverse effect discrimination. The school’s requirements do NOT encourage diversity.

    The diversity of religions helps to show what a problem they all are.

    Indeed. The same holds true for all the pesky diversity of different races, colors, cultures, languages, political ideas, philosohical beliefs – and what’s up with women in the workforce?

    True anti-discrimination would rule out treating people from different religions differently.

    No it would not, and courts in most democratic, “modern” states disagree with your sentiment. If you think it out more carefully, you’ll understand why your argument is flawed.

    Keep in mind, most democratic states include freedom from religious obligations as part and parcel of freedom of religion – which should be of comfort to you, if you are worried about having any obligations thrust upon yourself. However, most such states would also agree with Canadian jurisprudence that freedom of religion includes

    “the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, the right to declare religious beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest religious belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination.” R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd., [1985] 1 S.C.R. 295

    The school did the right thing in accommodating the Sikh student, and not enforcing its discriminatory requirements.

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