Workplace Religious Freedom for Sikhs and Other Religious Minorities


Credit: Karaminder Ghuman, Courtesy: The Sikh Coalition

The Sikh community is leading the way to strengthen law that will protect Sikhs and other religious minorities from job discrimination in the workplace. AB1964 – or the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA) – has been introduced by Assemblymember Mariko Yamada and is co-sponsored by The Sikh Coalition. Earlier this week, in a show of community leadership, the California Sikh sangat packed a hearing room in the California Assembly and testified in favor of AB1964. As a result, the bill passed through the Labor and Employment Committee and will be considered by the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday April 24th. The Sikh Coalition states that,

This is the first time in California’s history that the Workplace Religious Freedom Act has survived a committee vote, and this is a credit to the power of Sikhs to provide leadership on civil rights issues for all Americans. [link]

Why should Sikhs care about WRFA?

Sikhs suffer high levels of employment discrimination because of their Sikh identity. Many are told to shave their beards; others are told to remove their turbans; some are told that they can only work out of public view. If enacted, WRFA would make it harder in each of these cases for California employers to discriminate against Sikhs.

How would WRFA work?

Under current federal law, employers are required to make ‘reasonable accommodations’ for the religious practices of their employees. Employers can bypass this requirement by showing that such accommodations would impose a minimal difficulty or expense on the employer’s business. WRFA would still allow employers to deny religious accommodations, but only by proving that such accommodations would constitute a significant difficulty or expense. Because it usually costs employers little or nothing to accommodate Sikhs, the new legal standard would make it difficult for employers to discriminate against Sikhs. In addition, WRFA would make it illegal for employers to segregate Sikhs from customers and the general public.

What California Residents Can Do To Help

1. Attend the Judiciary Committee Hearing on April 24th

Community support at the hearing is very important. Assembly members should seerepresentationof the problem through community presence at the hearing.

Tuesday, April 24th 2012 |Judiciary Committee |8 a.m. – State Capitol, Room 4202

Sacramento Capitol1315 10th Street Sacramento, CA 95814

2. Call the offices of committee members

It is critically important to make short phone calls to committee offices. Each call lasts only about one minute, and it is therefore possible to cover all committee offices in about 10 minutes. For your convenience, here is a sample script that you can use:

“Hello. My name is _____, and I am a California resident. I am calling to request that the Assembly Member co-author AB1964, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. I have lived in California for __ years, and I believe that workers should be judged for their skills instead of their religion.”

Mike Feuer – Chair Dem-42 (916) 319-2042

Donald P. Wagner – Vice Chair Rep-70 (916) 319-2070

Toni Atkins Dem-76 (916) 319-2076

Roger Dickinson Dem-09 (916) 319-2009

Jeff Gorell Rep-37 (916) 319-2037

Alyson Huber Dem-10 (916) 319-2010

Brian W. Jones Rep-77 (916) 319-2077

William W. Monning Dem-27 (916) 319-2027

Bob Wieckowski Dem-20 (916) 319-2020

3. Sign the Petition

The Sikh Coalitionhas prepared a petition letter that you can automatically send to your representatives in the California legislature.

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4 Responses to “Workplace Religious Freedom for Sikhs and Other Religious Minorities”

  1. I would like to campaign for freedom of religion 'within' Sikh families. When extended families ostracize the children (and sometimes their parents as well) when they choose to go against the tenets of Sikhi, that is also clearly not allowing for religious freedom (which includes not being religious if you choose to).

  2. Jack says:

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  3. Shanelle says:

    This post has some really wonderful insights and interpretations in it. How long do you spend writing your posts?