Washington: A group of Sikh activists has launched an online petition asking Indian-American Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris to apologise to the community for allegedly defending a discriminatory policy in 2011 that prohibited state prison guards from keeping beards for religious reasons, even though exceptions were given for medical reasons.
In a statement, these Sikh activists alleged that during her tenure as California’s Attorney General, Harris defended a policy that prohibited state prison guards from keeping beards for religious reasons, even though exceptions were given for medical reasons.
The case settled without a policy change in 2011, prompting the US Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation and forcing California Sikhs to successfully lobby for stronger workplace religious freedom laws in the state the following year.
“Kamala Harris lectures her opponents on civil rights, but she needs to apologise for trampling on the civil rights of Sikh Americans as California’s attorney general,” Rajdeep Singh Jolly, a lawyer and political consultant in Washington, DC, said.
He said that Harris denied religious freedom to Sikh-Americans even when the Obama administration was taking historic steps to allow it.
“While the Obama/Biden administration was taking historic steps to allow observant Sikhs to serve in the US military, Harris was fighting hard to deny religious freedom and equal opportunity to Sikh Americans,” Jolly said.
Winty Singh, author of the American Turban blog and commentator on Sikh American issues, said Harris’ civil rights rhetoric will ring hollow until she addresses her defence of workplace discrimination against Sikhs. “It’s her opportunity now to right that wrong,” he said.
Kamala Harris campaign did not immediately respond to the email sent seeking their reaction on the allegations by the group.