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Press Release

Sikh Coalition Responds to the TSA's New Screening Policy for Religious Head Covering

Coalition is Cautiously Optimistic, But Calls on TSA to Implement Safeguards Against Profiling

(New York, NY) October 16, 2007 - The United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today announced a new policy that will apply to security screenings of religious head coverings in U.S. airports. The Sikh Coalition welcomes the policy change because it both protects national security and is respectful of religious pluralism. However, the Sikh Coalition continues to ask the TSA to create safeguards that better protect against religious profiling.

Under the new policy, religious headwear will not be patted down unless the traveler permits it.  Instead, a Sikh, or any person wearing religious headwear can pat down his or her own head covering, and then have their hands swabbed with a cotton cloth to check for chemical residue.

The new policy is a direct response to Sikh concerns, raised after the TSA implemented a policy on August 4, 2007 that listed turbans as headwear that should be patted down The TSA has now removed "turbans" from its screener guidance. In addition, the TSA will provide all its field employees with mandatory cultural awareness training about Sikh practices.

The Sikh Coalition nevertheless remains concerned that screeners have sole discretion to decide when to perform additional screening. Screeners may pull aside passengers for additional screening if they believe the person's head covering to be "bulky." While the TSA has assured us that trainings and supervisor oversight will stem improper use of this discretion, the Sikh Coalition is unconvinced that this is the best solution. We are encouraging the TSA to collect data with regards to additional screenings in U.S. airports, to ensure that screeners are not profiling.

We are also concerned that Sikh travelers have to assert that they do not want their turbans touched by a screening officer. As we understand it, the TSA is not requiring screeners to inform passengers that they have a right to conduct a self-pat-down, although this is the stated policy.

"We are encouraged that the TSA has found a solution that does not single out turbans for additional screening. Indeed, it is possible to secure America's safety and be true to the principles of religious freedom," said Amardeep Singh, Executive Director of the Sikh Coalition. "Still, we call on the TSA to implement safeguards that make good on its "no profiling" pledge."

 In a recent informal poll conducted by the Sikh Coalition, over 77% of Sikhs placed air travel among the five most important issues our community faces in the United States. It ranked second only to hate crimes. The Sikh Coalition hopes that the TSA will continue to work with us in the coming months to eliminate the Sikh community's concerns about traveling in this country.


Sikhism is the fifth largest world religion, with approximately 21 million adherents worldwide. Under the principals of their faith, Sikhs are mandated to leave all hair on their bodies uncut, wrapping the hair on their heads under a turban. The turban is a required article of the Sikh faith, and removing a Sikh's turban at a security checkpoint is equivalent to strip searching the person in public.

The Sikh Coalition is the nation's largest Sikh civil rights organization. It was created shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, in response to the widespread harassment, beating and even killing of Sikhs misidentified as Islamic terrorists. The Coalition has represented Sikhs in a number of legal actions involving their articles of faith, including employment discrimination, hate crimes, and access to public places.

Contact:  Amardeep Singh, Executive Director (917) 628-0091, (212) 655-3095, ext. 84, amar@sikhcoalition.org or Neha Singh, Advocacy Director (212) 655-3095 (ext. 84) or neha@sikhcoalition.org.



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