Sikh Americans and the Obama Administration

Sikh Americans and the Obama Administration

Letter from dear friend and mentor Amardeep Bhalla to fellow Sikh Americans on Election Day:

Dear Sikh Friends,

In case there is any Sikh American voter left to be persuaded, I just wanted to share this quick but comprehensive list of what the Obama Administration has done for our community. From reading it, I believe it will become clear that President Obama is by far the candidate most likely to advance Sikh American issues.

I urge any Sikh, whether they are Democrat, Republican, or Independent, to please read it. Regardless of your political affiliation, you should know what this Administration has done for our community. Please also consider sharing this via FB.

Before I begin, two important notes of self-disclosure. First, I am a partisan. I am a supporter of the President and Democrats more generally. Second, I write this note in my personal capacity. Many of you know I work full-time for the Sikh Coalition. Nothing I write here is meant to represent the views of the Sikh Coalition nor could it. Personally held political views within the Sikh Coalition board and staff are too diverse to be characterized any one way.

With that said, here’s my list of how this Administration has worked with the community:

  • First I would point out that President Obama’s Administration was the first in over 30 years to end the bar on new Sikh soldiers in the United States Army, by accommodating three Sikh soldiers over the past four years. Check out this link  — it’s so inspirational that our military under President Obama would not end the ban on new Sikh soliders, but would highlight it on their website. While these are one-time accommodations and not a change in overall policy, they are a critical step to getting the country’s and the government’s largest employer to end irrational discrimination against our community.
  • On a symbolic (yet there is substance in symbolism event), President Obama’s Administration, was the first to observe Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Gurpurab in the White House and in doing so recognize the importance of Sikhs to America.
  • President Obama’s Administration also held the first-ever briefing on Sikh American civil rights issues in the White House this past June. Enthusiastic leaders within the Sikh community had an opportunity to hear directly from Administration officials on their efforts to protect our rights and members of the community had an opportunity to ask questions and engage in a dialogue.
  • In October 2011, the White House bused Sikh American parents and children to New York City so that they could attend a Bullying Prevention Summit organized by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islander
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission successfully settled a lawsuit against an Autozone franchise that fired a Sikh worker because he starting wearing a turban. In California, the EEOC successfully brought an action against a company that fired a Sikh who carried a small kirpan. The United States Justice Department this year successfully settled a suit against New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority for forcing Sikhs and Muslims to brand their religious headdress with their logos. The United States Justice Department also secured the conviction of a man who brutally attacked a Sikh pizza delivery worker, throwing him into a pool and almost drowning him.
  • Last month the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service released a new version of its Sikh American Cultural Competency training, a comprehensive presentation that has been viewed by tens of thousands of federal, state, and local officials as they work to more meaningful engage the Sikh American community.
  • The response of our federal government to the tragedy in Oak Creek was robust and consistent with our values as a nation.
  • On the day of the attack the President convened a call of his national security team and directed that the federal government assist as appropriate in the investigation of the shooting.
  • The President also called a Trustee of the Gurdwara as well as the Governor of Wisconsin and Mayor of Oak Creek to offer his condolences.
  • The President also issued a public statement condemning the attack and recognizing the contributions and presence of Sikhs in the United States.
  • The next day, the President issued a Presidential Proclamation honoring the victims and ordering the flag of the United States be flown at half-staff until August 10, 2012.
  • Over the next week the Community Relations Service of the United States Justice Department conducted two town halls for interested community leaders and members. Community members had the opportunity to ask questions directly to the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the FBI Special Agent in Charge who is leading the federal investigation into the attack, the District Attorney for Milwaukee County, and a host of local, state, and federal officials.
  • Attorney General Eric Holder attended the Memorial Service for the victims of the attack and spoke eloquently about the contributions of Sikhs to America.
  • The First Lady personally visited with each of the victim’s families on August 24, 2012. To this day, a vigorous federal effort continues to investigate the attack, provide support to the victim’s families and the community more broadly, and directly engage the Sikh American community.

I hope this list makes clear that President Obama cares about our community and has taken unprecedented steps to reach out to us.