New Bill May Allow New York Sikhs To Wear Turbans In Public Service Like Police

Amric Singh Rathour, of the Queens borough of New York, talks to the media after filing a federal discrimination complaint against the New York Police Department, Monday, June 10, 2002, in New York. Rathour says he was fired from the NYPD during his training period because he would not shave his beard or remove his turban because of his religious beliefs. He is joined by his wife Prabhojt Kaur Rathour, at right.

NEW YORK – The New York City Council passed a bill Wednesday that might allow Sikh police officers to wear turbans and grow their beards.

For years a group called The Sikh Coaltion has been pressuring the NYPD to allow Sikh officers to honor traditional religious practices in wearing turbans and growing out their beards while on the job and in uniform.

Sikh men are required to wear turbans, which they consider a sacred garment, but the NYPD requires its officers to follow a very strict, almost militaristic, dress code.

In 2004, two Sikh traffic enforcement agents won the right to wear turbans on the job, but the two have since left the force and after their departure and the NYPD went back to the old rules.

Sikh officers were granted permission earlier this year to wear a navy blue patka, according to the Wall Street Journal, a smaller turban traditionally worn by Sikh children, underneath their hats. The Coalition protested, however, saying they shouldn’t have to dress like boys to be police officers.

The new legislation puts pressure on public and private employers, not just the NYPD, to allow their employees the freedom to follow their religious beliefs.

And as Council member Mark Weprin, who sponsored the bill, explains to Gothamist, the new law doesn’t explicitly require the NYPD to do anything , but it does make it more difficult for any employer, including the NYPD, to claim an employee’s religious observance creates an “undue hardship.”

It remains unclear how the NYPD will respond to the bill.

“It would behoove [NYPD] Commissioner [Ray] Kelly to rethink his policy and start welcoming Sikhs into our police force,” Amardeep Singh, co-founder of the Coalition, told the Journal. “I would hope the bill would move him in that direction, so we don’t have to litigate.”