The United States of America is thought to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave” though this sentiment is becoming more and more questionable every day. Where people have assumed, based on the Constitution written by the founding fathers of this country, that there is freedom of speech as well as religious freedom, it seems that almost daily, these rights are being threatened and even taken away. From the jailing of “whistle-blowers” to now the ridicule of a spiritual man for choosing his religious freedom over the demands of a judge and “suffering the consequences;” the question must be asked – Is religious discrimination ruling the justice system in this country?
In Mississippi recently, a man of the Sikh faith, Mr. Jageet Singh, was driving a truck which happened to get a flat tire. When a police man stopped to “assist” the man, instead he was berated, ridiculed and tormented for wearing his religious garments, a turban and the Sikh sacred sword called the kirpan, which is legal to carry due to its religious significance. When this man would not remove the kirpan as “ordered”, he was repeatedly mocked and called a terrorist while the police officers searched his vehicle laughing at him. He was then arrested for failing to comply with a police officer.
When Mr. Jageet Singh arrived at the courtroom he was ordered by the judge to remove “that rag” from his head. The turban is a sacred article of clothing to those of the Sikh faith and to remove it is to defile God. Mr. Singh refused and was tormented by Judge Aubrey Rimes and detained for several hours for not complying with the “rules of the courtroom.” The police officers and the courtroom Judge were asking this man to reject his religion in favor of their slanted “legal rules” and assumptions. This reminds me subtly of the inquisition where someone is forced to admit heresy to the church or suffer the consequences of torture and death.
Is the wearing of a turban suddenly a punishable act? Do judges and policeman have the right to ask those of faith to remove their religious symbols and disgrace the beliefs they have? What if a Mormon were asked to remove his garments before standing before court? Or a Christian told they could not wear prayer beads? What if we suddenly started asking the Buddhist Monk to put on street clothes before appearing in a courtroom or required a nun to remove her headdress? Do these acts seem permissible by today’s legal standards? I think not! Are we in the land of religious freedom or not?
Is religious discrimination ruling the justice system today? Do judges and police officers feel they have the right to ridicule and order those of any religious persuasion to deny the very beliefs they have in favor of the system’s preferences? If it were allowed to be okay to order a man or woman of faith to need falter on their religious beliefs in order to remain safe and unpunished in this country, then we would be entering a dangerous time of persecution none of us desires. Instead, incidences such as these need be nipped in the bud before they are repeated and more voices are attempted to be silenced and more beliefs belittled.
The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating this case as are the United Sikhs who sent a letter to the Mississippi Department of Transportation. These sorts of acts are uncalled for and unjust. Religious discrimination has no room ruling the justice system no matter what the case. As for now, the legal director of the ACLU made the following statement:
The officers’ shameful treatment of Mr. Singh was an abuse of their authority and a betrayal of the public’s trust that law enforcement officials will carry out their duties free from prejudice. The fact that officers may be unfamiliar with Sikhism or other minority religions does not give them license to harass and degrade members of the public who follow those faiths.
Hopefully these types of incidences can be avoided in the future as we all learn to respect one another’s beliefs and choices and live together as one people with diversity and beautiful unique expression. Religious discrimination in the justice system cannot be allowed to rule and it takes each person staying true to themselves and their beliefs for this to be so.
Written by: Stasia Bliss