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Michigan Court Accommodates Turban

By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, September 13, 2013 | 10:13 pm

Hardeep Singh was asked to remove his "hat" or leave the courtroom. He left.

Photo Source: United Sikhs

When Hardeep Singh of Battle Creek, Michigan, sat down in a Kalamazoo County courtroom, the judge ordered him to remove his "hat."

Courtrooms are the domains of the judges. What is appropriate courtroom conduct is up to the judge. It is customary for most judges not to allow hats.

“But most are not as rigid,” said Manmeet Singh, staff attorney for United Sikhs, a New York-based advocacy group.

“Judges should be accommodating, they are the givers of justice and should be even more (sensitive) than the common person on street. He should not be asking for it to be removed.”

Hardeep Singh was accompanying a friend to his court hearing in the Kalamazoo County Probate Court on Oct. 16, when suddenly, while seated in the courtroom, the judge asked him to remove his “hat.”

According to a Sept. 11 news release by United Sikhs, all attempts to explain that the Sikh turban is not a hat, that it is an article of faith and an inseparable part of the Sikh identity were halted by the judge.

Another couple seated in the courtroom tried to defend Hardeep Singh, but their efforts also failed. The judge asked him to either remove his “hat” or leave the courtroom.

“As any devout Sikh would have done, (Hardeep Singh) chose to leave the courtroom,” the news release said.

“Not each and every courtroom has a (non-discrimination) policy,” Hardeep Singh told SikhNN. United Sikhs filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Justice. And with the assistance of the US Attorney’s office for the western district of Michigan, the court’s existing policy was amended to allow persons wearing religious head coverings into the courtrooms.

“It’s just few lines,” Manmeet Singh added. “But it will benefit not only Sikhs, but Jews, Muslims or any minority faith with religious attire.”

The new non-discrimination policy is now posted inside and outside the courthouse, and on its and Web site.

Judge Donald R. Halstead, who recently retired, wrote a letter of apology last month.

“It was never my intention to discriminate against you or your religion and has never been my practice to discriminate against anyone on the basis of religious faith,” he said on Aug. 1. “I failed to properly understand the significance of your dastar/turban and for the Impact of my actions, I sincerely apologize.”

Halstead also notified United Sikhs that the court has trained its staff on the new non-discrimination policy related to religious attire and headwear. The court also clarified its complaint process. If anyone should feel discriminated against while at the court, a complaint form is readily accessible.

“I am confident that such actions will ensure your experience is not felt or shared by others.”

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