City Sikhs say they no longer want to be forced into choosing between their religion and a career as a police officer.
Comptroller John Liu along with the Sikh Coalition and United Sikhs started a petition calling on the city and the NYPD to modify the policy prohibiting headdresses and requiring officers to keep their beards short.
Simmering for years, the issue returned to the forefront after six Sikhs were killed in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August. Many Sikhs felt the shooting resulted from a lack of knowledge about the religion — a misunderstanding many say is furthered by the uniform requirements in the NYPD, effectively preventing followers from serving.
“Changing these policies would show that New York City deserves its reputation as a global capital of religious acceptance,” said Liu, who also sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg following the shooting requesting the policy change.
In August, an NYPD spokesperson said Sikhs may wear turbans as long as they are dark blue and fit under their cap. Beards are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, the spokesperson said.
A large majority of the city’s 30,000 to 40,000 Sikhs live in Queens.
“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,” Harpreet Singh Toor, chair of public and external affairs at the Sikh Cultural Society.
A policy change would not only benefit Sikhs, but any member of a religion that requires head coverings or beards.
The petition also points to the fact that other forces throughout the country permit religious garb while serving.
“Sikhs can and have served as police officers successfully all over the world,” said Amardeep Singh, director of programs at the Sikh Coalition. “The NYPD needs to understand that its ban on Sikh service is both wrong and illegal.”
A bill, sponsored by Councilmember Mark Weprin, was passed by the city council last year that required employers, including the NYPD, to “accommodate religious practice, unless doing so would create undue hardship.”
The bill did not require the department to make any changes, though litigation remains a possibility, Singh said.
Assemblymember David Weprin also introduced a bill in Albany that would address uniform agencies allowing individuals to wear their religious attire.