European Court of Human Rights Rules Against Sikhs

A French Sikh who appealed the ban on wearing a turban for ID-card photos was denied his right to religious practice by the European Court of Human Rights. While acknowleding that the ban interferes with religious practice, the Court argued that “public safety” overrode accommodation. As a rationale for their ruling, they argued that there was a safety need to photograph individuals without their religious attire and that similar steps have been taken with the hijab.

Every time I read a story like this, it’s hard not to be livid. When the French ban came down, I thought it was unabashedly racist, with an imposition of one mode of attire/appearance privileged and institutionalized over diversity. It’s even more shameful, in my opinion, to have a court whose sole duty is to adjudicate and defend human rights rule against religious accommodation on the basis of xenophobia and misinformation. If a Sikh or a Muslim is walking about in religious attire, how will photographing them without it help you identify them? The real underlying argument is about “hiding” dangerous things in one’s outfit, which is no easier to do than hiding it on your person, and no less offensive.

This brings up two underlying issues for me. The first speaks to the completely disparate meanings we attach to the word “secular” on either side of the Atlantic. Here in the U.S., the idea of “secularism” means the absence of the establishment of a national church or faith. In effect, a very religious country is allowed to have many different expressions of faith co-exist, and for the most part, has been relatively more open about this. In France, “secular” means the expungement of religion from public space (although, of course, this has disproportionate effects for religions that incorporate attire or presentation into one’s practice). When both of these competing ideas exist, I would expect a human rights body to adjudicate on the side of freedom, not on the side of fear.

The underlying argument — that national security (couched in “public safety” here) trumps other principles of expression or practice is not unfamiliar, but it seems so jarringly out of touch with the reality of people’s lives. So what do you do when a rights-based argument fails against a national defense argument? What becomes the forum for legal protection? Are there any legally-rooted places to resort to for communities who pose a large enough minority to bring out reactionary legislation, but not enough to impact political change?


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7 Responses to “European Court of Human Rights Rules Against Sikhs”

  1. BUCHANGI says:

    SECULARISM IS NOT BANNING FAITHS, IT IS ALLOWING ALL TO BE PRACTICED FREELY AND EQUALY.

    THIS IS NOT SECULARISM, IT IS TOTALITARIAN.- DICTATORSHIP.

  2. BUCHANGI says:

    SECULARISM IS NOT BANNING FAITHS, IT IS ALLOWING ALL TO BE PRACTICED FREELY AND EQUALY.

    THIS IS NOT SECULARISM, IT IS TOTALITARIAN.- DICTATORSHIP.

  3. Satinder says:

    This is distressing news and your pointers are excellent. Can we go back to the post on Sikhs and the Indian constitution. I think the amendment for a separate Sikh clause is urgently needed. Alongside if a Sikh personal law was to be proposed, a massive transformation would happen. Sikhism would be entrenched in law and the French love their laws. The Sikh diaspora can not do all the heavy lifting by itself. Sikh leadership needs to act and not always react.

  4. Satinder says:

    This is distressing news and your pointers are excellent. Can we go back to the post on Sikhs and the Indian constitution. I think the amendment for a separate Sikh clause is urgently needed. Alongside if a Sikh personal law was to be proposed, a massive transformation would happen. Sikhism would be entrenched in law and the French love their laws. The Sikh diaspora can not do all the heavy lifting by itself. Sikh leadership needs to act and not always react.

  5. adv uppal says:

    It is disappointing as the Human Rights courts and human rights organizations are to protect the rights of people, wearing turban is mandatory for an adult sikh as part of religious requirement and identity and we find mention of dastar (Turbans) in guru granth sahib at many places, This is a right possessed by birth by a sikh and the sikh community has to rise and make the world understand the importance of their religious symbols.

  6. adv uppal says:

    It is disappointing as the Human Rights courts and human rights organizations are to protect the rights of people, wearing turban is mandatory for an adult sikh as part of religious requirement and identity and we find mention of dastar (Turbans) in guru granth sahib at many places, This is a right possessed by birth by a sikh and the sikh community has to rise and make the world understand the importance of their religious symbols.

  7. […] of strict secularism amid fears of growing fundamentalism. Although Sikhs have also been fighting for their right to wear turbans in France – what will an overt ban, which sends a clear […]