Legal Victory: Formal Apology for Removing Sikh's Turban for Driver's Licence Photo

Trenton, New Jersey - UNITED SIKHS client Mr. Samitter Singh has received a written apology from the Motor Vehicles Commission in New Jersey. Mr Singh's religious freedom was violated by the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) in Trenton, New Jersey on January 29, 2014, when he went there to renew his driver's license. He had all the necessary documentation and met all requirements for the renewal. However, when Mr.Singh proceeded to take his picture for the licence renewal, staff at the MVC demanded that he remove his turban.

Mr. Singh, who is a practicing Sikh, was absolutely shocked by the demands of the MVC staff members who stated that regardless of his faith, he would have to remove his turban for the photograph. He was told that his licence would not be renewed if he did not comply. Mr. Singh and his wife repeatedly pleaded with them to not force Mr. Singh to remove his turban. Sadly, all pleas and explanations were ignored and the MVC failed to cite any logical reasons why Mr. Singh must remove his turban.

In March 2014, UNITED SIKHS wrote a legal demand letter on behalf of Mr.Singh to the Motor Vehicles Commission in Trenton, NJ, and filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. We received a response from the MVC, but it wasn't satisfactory. In August 2014, the matter was referred by the DOJ to the Civil Rights Division at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In the months that followed, UNITED SIKHS worked persistently with the NHSTA to ensure a new DL card for Mr.Singh, and a just resolution of this matter. We insisted that an apology for this discriminatory and demeaning incident is a must. In November 2014, Mr. Singh was photographed while wearing his turban for his new DL card.

And, finally in March 2015, a written apology was secured from the Motor Vehicles Commission in New Jersey. We would like to thank Mr.Eric Treene at the DOJ Civil Rights Division and Ms.Regina Morgan at the NHSTA Civil Rights Division for their valuable time and support in ensuring this matter reaches a just conclusion.

"This apology again sends a message that the rule of law prevails in the United States, and that civil rights violations such as this won't go unchecked. It's about time that state and federal agencies which involve public dealings adequately train their staff on religious and cultural sensitivities", said UNITED SIKHS counsel, and the attorney on this case, Mr.Manmeet Singh.

As a Civil Rights Organization, UNITED SIKHS is dedicated to its advocacy efforts and is happy to report to the community that our commitment to this matter has led to a successful religious accommodation and favourable outcome for our client. As always, we encourage you to practice your faith freely and fearlessly.

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Issued By: 
Mejindarpal Kaur
International Legal Director

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