20 November 2008

"In Jesus' Name"

I have written in this blog about many Sikh issues. Some are tragic, some funny, some disgusting, some just plain strange. This one is sad, hurtful in yet another way.

Imagine that you, after proudly tying your dastaar, decide to teach your children the value of selfless service, one of the greatest, most beautiful of Sikh - or any other group's - values. So you and your spouse go to your local community's Union Mission, a place that feeds people too poor to feed themselves. Your intention is to make a donation and to also offer your children's service to help out.

This is a lovely picture of a family wishing to contribute to the welfare of the community, the picture of the kind of citizens we Sikhs should all aspire to be.

Now, imagine that the receptionist, instead of welcoming your service tells you that you are in the United States, so take off your turban! Then further imagine the head of the mission refusing your handshake, telling you to go away, we don't want your donation if you're wearing a turban.

Sounds impossibly rude, eh? Well, rude it most certainly is, but unfortunately, not impossible.

This is the notice I got today from SALDEF:

No Turbans Allowed

Sikh American Expelled from North Carolina Food Bank for Practicing his Faith; SALDEF Urges Interfaith Groups to Support Religious Freedom

Washington, DC, November 20, 2008 – Yesterday, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) learned that Mr. Gurnam Singh Khera—a Sikh American—was expelled from a community center in North Carolina because he wore a Dastaar (Sikh turban) in accordance with his faith.

The incident reportedly occurred at the Union Mission facility in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Mr. Khera and his wife went to the facility to make a donation for a Thanksgiving Food Drive and expressed interest in sending their children to the facility during the Thanksgiving holidays to serve food to the needy.

Upon entering the facility, Mr. Khera was told by a receptionist that “this is the United States” and that he needed to remove his Dastaar. When Mr. Khera attempted to explain the religious significance of the Dastaar, the receptionist refused to speak with him. When the Reverend in charge of the facility was summoned, Mr. Khera offered a handshake, but the Reverend reportedly refused to reciprocate and asked Mr. Khera and his wife to leave the facility, saying: “Go donate to some other place; we do not need your donations unless you remove your turban.”

Click here to read
the response from Union Mission to SALDEF’s letter.

The reply from: Ron Weeks [mailto: edirector@umrr.org]

Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2008 1:16 PM

RE: SALDEF - Accommendation of Sikh American Donors

We are a Christ-centered ministry that has been serving our communities "in Jesus' Name" from our own private facilities since 1951. We have a long standing policy that is clearly displayed on our lobby door that all males are required to remove their headgear. We feed meals every day and welcome the idea of others doing the same as our communities are certainly in need of more than we are able to do.

Being supported entirely by donations we don't turn them away. Couldn't his donation be used by the local Langar you speak of. I can think of several options; send it by another person, mail or internet...donate to another charity.

Rev. Ronald C. Weeks

Executive Director, Union Mission of Roanoke Rapids, NC, Inc


"In Jesus' name"?! I know something of the kind of person Jesus was and I can't believe he would condone such rude, hurtful acts in his name.

This reply is as small-minded and ungracious as I have ever read. And hurtful, as well. I'm afraid my response would be rude and most likely obscene. I do not respond well to this sort of gratuitous nastiness. This is certainly worthy of its own Sikhtoon, I think.

In a way, some might say this is no big deal. No one was assaulted, there are no torn turbans, no bruises, no dead bodies. On ly the pain of being disrespected, the attempt to humiliate us. I say "attempt to humiliate us" because this brother and sister were not humiliated; no one can humiliate me without my consent. Now, back to the SALDEF bulletin.

Every Sikh Gurdwara—place of worship—throughout the world has operated the Guru Ka Langar—free community kitchen—for more than five centuries. At each Guru Ka Langar, volunteers of all faiths serve free meals to all visitors, regardless of race, religion, gender, caste, or social standing. In keeping with this tradition, Sikh Americans throughout the United States have routinely partnered with churches and other places of worship to feed the homeless and provide relief to victims of natural disasters.

“We are profoundly offended that a community center would repudiate a Sikh American because of his religion and refuse his Thanksgiving donation,” said Rajbir Singh Datta, National Director of SALDEF. “Religious discrimination has no place in the United States, and we call upon Union Mission to issue a written apology to Mr. Khera and the entire Sikh American community and work with SALDEF on efforts to celebrate religious diversity in the cause of helping the less fortunate.”

SALDEF urges you to contact the Union Mission of Roanoke Rapids to express your disappointment.

We commend Mr. Gurnam Singh Khera for bringing this matter to our attention. If you or your children experience discrimination, harassment, or violence because of your Sikh faith, please notify SALDEF at legal@saldef.org or via phone at (202) 393-2700.


  1. That's pretty strange... It's hard to imagine that happening at any church/mission I know of.

    Maybe they are one of those small hardcore evangelical groups you hear about from time to time.

  2. have written to that Edirector and to the Church in India.

  3. Dear Chris ji, Possibly.

    I have done a little research on this group and discovered that they serve 1500 people a month, so they do a lot of good. It's hard to believe that they would turn down a heart-felt, albeit nonchristian, donation.

    What really bothers me about this is less their policy than their rudeness. Their gratuitious rudeness. They seem stupid. As I have said many times, the cure for ignorance is knowledge; the only cure fot stupidity is death. Rudeness is even more intractable.

    Dear How ji,

    Excellent! I have also sent an e-mail, a very - I hope - polite e-mail. No response as of yet. Maybe later, I suppose they're very busy with Thanksgiving now. BTW, I read in Sikh World News that the reason Khera ji declined to sue is that he wanted to mission to feed people, not use their resources fighting him. Now there's a Sardar! The picture - to be added as soon as blogger co-operates - is from the same source.

  4. SS Ji - yes and I read that he refused to sue because he wanted them to spend their money feeding the poor, not fighting him.

    I ask, who is more Christlike?



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