For more than a decade, Sikh-Americans who also wanted to be New York City police officers have had to decide between their career and certain aspects of their religious tradition, and a number of city officials, including Comptroller John Liu, are pushing to change that.
NYPD policy bans beards, which observant Sikhs wear, and does not allow turbans commonly worn by Sikhs to be worn on duty because they do not fit under the officers’ standard hat. The policy has been challenged with mixed success for over a decade, but the official rules are still in place.
“The NYPD shouldn’t force Sikhs to choose between serving their city and honoring their faith,” Liu said last week. “Changing these policies would show that New York City deserves its reputation as a global capital of religious acceptance.”
Liu is now circulating a petition demanding the policy be changed. The petition can be found at comptroller.nyc.gov/sikh
The issue was reignited after the shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple in August. In the days after the massacre, Gurdev Singh Kang, president of the Richmond Hill-based Sikh Cultural Society, publically called for an end to the ban while appearing with Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
At a press conference in front of a Richmond Hill gurdwara, Kang noted that similar policies have been eliminated elsewhere.
“New York City, which is home to such great diversity, should be more considerate and open to those communities that have decided to make this city as their own,” said Harpreet Singh Toor, chairman of public and external affairs at the Sikh Cultural Society.
Washington DC Metro Police repealed their ban, and the MTA allows Sikhs to wear their turbans provided they affix the agency’s logo on top. The military has also recently changed their policies to allow Sikhs to wear turbans while serving. The NYPD has not said if it is open to repealing the ban, and says it does accommodate Sikhs by allowing them to wear a smaller turban commonly worn by Sikh children called a patka since it fits under the police uniform hat.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck), who represents a large Sikh community in Eastern Queens, introduced legislation on the state level that would mandate city agencies to allow Sikhs to wear turbans and beards. Weprin said he even disagreed with the MTA’s policy.
“In order to promote understanding and tolerance in our city, we must make sure that individuals see people of all ethnicities, religions, and colors working as our firefighters, MTA workers, and police officers,” he said. “An individual should never have to choose between their place of employment and their religious observance.”
Both Liu and Weprin have said that the policy does not only affect Sikhs but other religions, including Orthodox Judaism.
In August, Bloomberg said there are between one and two dozen Sikhs working for the NYPD.