Having Sikhs remove their turbans in public at airports is “like asking a woman to take off her blouse in public,” said J.P. Singh, president of the Sikh Center of the San Francisco Bay Area in El Sobrante. “It’s that bad.” (“Sikh men feel targeted at airports,” San Jose Mercury News)
But a new Homeland Security policy, implemented August 4, allows airport screeners to conduct pat-downs of religious headgear at the screener’s discretion. Previously, travelers wearing turbans were searched only if they failed to clear metal detectors or other preliminary checks.
Kuldip Singh, managing director of United Sikhs, was one of three men pulled aside by a screener on August 12 at the San Francisco International Airport. The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund has heard “dozens of complaints, people being asked to remove their turbans in public and denied the use of a mirror or space to re-tie them” in the last three weeks, according to the group’s director and East Bay resident Kavneet Singh.
Screeners may also search those wearing cowboy or straw hats, but skullcaps worn by observant Jews are not on the list of suspicious head coverings. Transportation Security Administration spokesman Nico Melendez. says, “we have to keep a step ahead of the bad guys” and adds that if skullcaps are not on the list it is because there is no weapon that could possibly fit inside one. He says the administration does not rule out changing the rules in response to community protest, offering as an example the total prohibition on liquids modified to permit small amounts in carry-on bags.
Sikh groups have written to Homeland Security to protest the policy and collected thousands of signatures for petitions against it.