By Meenakshi IyerNew Delhi, March 22 : Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs signed an executive order prohibiting race-based hair discrimination in workplaces and schools, a move that could help Sikhs who must wear turban and maintain uncut hair and beard.
The order will prohibit state agencies, and all new state contracts or subcontracts from discrimination based on hair texture and protective styles, such as braids, twists, knots, and headwraps, in the workplace and in public schools to ensure protection against discrimination based on hairstyles.
“Today, I am issuing an Executive Order that demonstrates the need to prioritize the protection of culture, and allows individuals to show up as their true selves without being subjected to race-based hair discrimination,” Hobbs said in a statement.
Hobbs told the Herald Review that there appears to be a special problem for Black women who are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home due to their hair.
“For far too long Black women, men, and children have been deprived of educational and employment opportunities for wearing their natural hair,” she said.
Acknowledging that her order is focused more on Black hairstyles, Hobbs told Herald Review that “we are certainly willing to look into more”, signalling hope for Sikhs who must wear turban and maintain beard, and Hasidic Jews with side curls (payos).
According to estimates, there are nearly 500,000 Sikhs in America, accounting for 0.2 per cent of the population as of 2021, and they form the country’s sixth-largest religious group.
In 2016, Captain Simratpal Singh became the first active duty Sikh soldier to be permitted to begin wearing a turban, long hair, and beard.
He had previously bowed to Army grooming standards when he entered the military academy at West Point but regretted the decision and sought an accommodation in 2015.
In a historic move last year, a federal appeals court in the US ruled that Sikhs recruits in the Marine Corps could keep a beard and wear turban.
The Marine Corps previously denied all these requests arguing that allowing Sikhs to wear religious beards would disrupt troop uniformity and appearance among the recruits, ultimately threatening national security.
The judges cited cutting hair and shaving beards as a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
In February this year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) rolled out an updated policy requiring staff members to shave facial hair, irrespective of any religious or medical reasons they may have for keeping it.
According to activists, the new policy is an attempt to disproportionately target religious minorities like Sikh and Black Americans.
(Meenakshi Iyer can be reached at [email protected])
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