California law bars discrimination against Sikhs
Washington: California Governor Jerry Brown has signed two bills aimed at battling workplace discrimination against Sikhs and Muslims by shunting workers wearing turbans, beards and hijabs to backroom jobs out of public view.
"This bill, AB 1964, makes it very clear that wearing any type of religious clothing or hairstyle, particularly such as Sikhs do, that that is protected by law and nobody can discriminate against you because of that," Brown told an enthusiastic crowd of 500 Sikhs on Saturday, the Sacramento Bee reported.
"Breaking down prejudice is something you've got to do every day, and to help us do that, I'm going to sign a couple of bills," he said at a rally of the North American Punjabi Association on the steps of the Capitol in the state capital of Sacramento.
"Sikhs everywhere can see in California they are a powerful presence," he was quoted as saying.
The Workplace Religious Freedom Act, Assembly Bill 1964 by Democrat Mariko Yamada ensures that employees receive equal protection under law, protecting workers who wear turbans, hijabs and yarmulkes. In California, employers faced over 500 cases of religious discrimination in 2011.
Brown himself declined to wear a turban, saying, "I've worked hard to get my head cleared”, but honoured the thousands of Sikhs who have given their lives in a long history of struggle for religious freedom both in India and the United States, the Bee said.
Brown also signed Senate Bill 1540, sponsored by Democrat Loni Hancock changing how history and social sciences are taught in schools so that students learn about the history, tradition and theology of California Sikhs.
Education can blunt hatred, prejudice and fatal misunderstandings, such as the massacre of Sikhs outside a Wisconsin temple, Brown said.
"Both bills represent landmark achievements that will increase protections for all religious observers in the workplace and expand awareness of the 100-year history of Sikhs in California," said Balbir Dhillon, the president of the Sacramento Sikh Temple.
Calling it "a historic win for civil rights”, Sikh Coalition said, "This achievement ranks among the most far-reaching victories in the Sikh Coalition's history. It will protect the civil rights of millions of Americans."