Turbans are not welcome in Mississippi. That’s the lesson Jageet Singh learned, anyway, while passing through the state. The devout Sikh was arrested and harassed by both police and a county judge for adhering to his faith’s dress code earlier this year, the ACLU reports.
The good news is that none of this treatment is legal. Still, that’s little consolation when the people designated to enforce and uphold the law are flagrantly ignoring it in order to badger a citizen because of their own prejudices.
Police pulled over Singh, who works as a truck driver, when he drove through Mississippi in January. The officers called Singh a terrorist and hurled other offensive epithets at him for his religion. When a search of his truck turned up nothing suspicious, officers redirected their attention to his attire.
Sikh customs stipulate that baptized males wear both a turban and kirpan while in public, but officers tried to get Singh to remove the accessories, claiming they were illegal. After Singh explained that it was faith-based attire, the officers mocked him and arrested him for failing to “obey an officer’s lawful command.”
Two months later, Singh was required to return to Mississippi to face the charge in court. Instead of being rightfully exonerated, the presiding judge, Judge Aubrey Rimes, added to the harassment by instructing officers to remove him from his courtroom for wearing a turban.
Singh’s attorney initially thought there might be a misunderstanding, but Judge Rimes repeated that he would not permit Singh to sit in his courtroom while wearing “that rag.” Moreover, the judge threatened to hold Singh’s case until the end of the day as a punishment if he continued to wear the turban.
Since taking off his turban would be considered disgraceful in the eyes of Sikh faith, Singh would not remove it. Consequently, Judge Rimes followed through on his threat to make Singh wait outside of the courtroom for many hours.
It just goes to show that Mississippi, which continues to cite religious freedoms in order to strengthen the presence of Christianity in the state, is actually content to extend “religious tolerance” to just one particular religion.
Federal intervention will hopefully prevent the treatment Singh experienced from occurring again. After the Department of Justice conducted an investigation on this matter, the Pike County Board of Supervisors amended its official policies to forbid government employees from demanding that people remove religious headwear.
Alas, this new rule will probably do little to replace the prevailing ill will toward Sikhs in the United States. Often viewed as “Muslim terrorists” due to ignorance and stereotypes, violence against Sikhs continues. Recently, a Sikh Columbia University professor was beaten by an angry mob as they called him “Osama.”
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