Sikhs lend support for US Muslim woman battle over head scarf

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By Hb Singh

The US Supreme Court earlier this week heard a case of a Muslim woman fighting for her right to wear the head scarf, which has united the various religious groups, including Sikhs, on her side.

The case, in some ways, may remind Malaysian Sikhs of the ‘Allah’ issue taken up the Roman Catholic newspaper The Herald.

On Wed  (25 Feb 2015), the US Supreme Court heard the case where Samantha Elauf charged that retailer Abercrombie & Fitch violated anti-­discrimination laws when it denied her a job because her head scarf conflicted with the company’s dress code.

The case managed to unite Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Sikh groups, all of which have weighed in on Elauf’s side, according to news reports. The decision could shape how other U.S. companies treat and talk to religious people in job interviews and once they are hired, one report noted.

In July 2008, the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC) filed an application at the Kuala Lumpur High Court seeking to join a suit by the newspaper against the government over use of the word “Allah”.

In that case, though, the Muslims and the representatives of the other faiths were on the opposing sides, unlike the US case.

The issue before the US Supreme court on Wednesday was whether retailer Abercrombie & Fitch violated the federal law banning religious discrimination when it rejected a highly rated job applicant because she wore a Muslim headscarf, according to a NPR report.

Sikhs support Elauf in anti-­discrimination case against retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. The matter has gone to the US Supreme Court
Sikhs support Elauf in anti-­discrimination case against retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. The matter has gone to the US Supreme Court

On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court seemed inclined to agree with Elauf, reports the Washington Post.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took up the case of Elauf, who was denied a job at one of the chain’s stores in Tulsa. Elauf, then 17, had worn a head scarf, or hijab, since she was 13, it added.

The Sikh Coalition, a Sikh civil rights organisation, was one of the 15 religious and civil organisations that appeared in an amicus brief in support of EEOC’s petition to the Supreme Court.

“We joined an amicus brief submitted for this case last December, explaining why Sikh applicants are often at a severe disadvantage during the hiring process. It’s good to see our concerns echoed by the court,” according to a posting on the coalition’s Facebook page.

The other organisations supporting the amicus brief included the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (the highest administrative level of the Seventh-day Adventist church) and the American Islamic Congress (AIC).

In the document, it is argued: “Amici curiae, religious and civil-rights organizations representing tens of millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and other faith groups throughout the United States, are deeply concerned about the impact of these two holdings on the ability of religiously observant job applicants to obtain and keep employment and, equally important, to continue following the tenets of their faith. From personal ex- perience working with their members and clients, amici know that the disparity between employer and employee is nowhere greater than during the hiring process.”

When deliberating on the issues at hand, the justices had made references to Sikhs and their turbans.

Justice Samuel Alito had brought up a scenario, which he said may ‘sound like a joke’, according to transcripts of the Supreme Court oral arguments on the Wednesday proceeding.

Justice Alito  “Let’s say 4  four ­­ four people show up for a job interview at Abercrombie…this is going to sound like a joke, but, you know, it’s not… So the first is a Sikh man wearing a turban, the second is a Hasidic man wearing a hat, the third is a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, the fourth is a Catholic nun in a habit. Now, do you think the employer has to­, that those people have to say, we just want to tell you, we’re dressed this way for a religious reason. We’re not just trying to make a fashion statement.”

That statement was quite telling as to which way he may be headed in this case.

In a separate statement, available at the EEOC website, Elauf says: “I am not only standing up for myself, but for all people who wish to adhere to their faith while at work. Observance of my faith should not prevent me from getting a job.” – ASIA SAMACHAR (28 Feb 2015)

 

[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE! Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]

 

 

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