Sikh rights group protests new US airport turban searches

[JURIST] The New York-based Sikh Coalition [advocacy website] Saturday expressed concern [press release] at a new US Transportation and Security Administration [official website] policy that subjects Sikhs to heightened screening procedures at US airports, including mandatory turban pat downs. On Friday TSA officials told the Coalition that in a Guidance memo issued to 43,000 TSA screeners nationwide that it had specifically included the turban [statement, DOC] - worn by Sikhs as a article of faith [Sikh Coalition backgrounder] - as an example of a type of headwear that could potentially hide non-metallic threat items warranting increased scrutiny. The new TSA Guidance amends an earlier one [text, PDF] issued in the wake of September 11 which recognized that "Sikhs view their turbans as an important connection to God that covers a very private and personal part of the body. Accordingly, removal of a turban is considered one of the most invasive acts imaginable."

The Sikh Coalition said it believed that "the most precious article of our faith has [now] become part of a government-mandated profile of a person who is a terrorist threat", and called the new TSA procedure "disturbingly vague":

Screeners have personal discretion to subject a Sikh to additional screening, a turban pat-down, or to remove the turban. With 43,000 TSA screeners nationwide, and minimal cultural competency training, the Sikh Coalition is concerned that this will lead to religious profiling.
AFP has more. Traditional Sikh religious accessories, including turbans and ceremonial daggers, have lately been the subject of legal controversy in Canada and France [JURIST reports] as well as the US, although those countries have reacted differently to potential security concerns.

 

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