Another Legal Victory: Belgian Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Turban in Two Schools

To read Punjabi translation of PR click here

"The UNITED SIKHS legal team has been in the forefront of a roller-coaster legal battle since 2006, when a lower court overturned a turban ban in GO Schools, which was then reinstated by another court on a technicality, before the ban was firmly overturned by the Conseil d‘Etat last week ," said Mejindarpal Kaur, International Legal Director of UNITED SIKHS, an international advocacy group.

"After many years of peaceful resistance, the Sikhs have been proved right,"said Pieter Lagae, UNITED SIKHS' Belgian lawyer.

Sharanjit Singh
13-year- old Sharanjit Singh was forced to remove his patka to attend a Belgian school for the past one year

18th Oct 2014, St Truiden, Belgium - The Belgian Conseil d'Etat has upheld the freedom of religion of Sikh students by overturning the ban on the Sikh Turban in two GO schools, which are a part of a large group of schools attended by many Sikh students in the Flemish part of Belgium.

"In two separate landmark decisions dated 14th Oct 2014, the Highest Administrative Court has held that GO has the obligation to organise its education without harming the respect for diversity and plurality," said Mejindarpal Kaur, International Legal Director of UNITED SIKHS, an international advocacy NGO that has led the legal campaign to reverse the ban on the Sikh turban. Sharanjit Singh, (12 years old) and Sukhjot Singh (10 years old) brought separate actions in Sept 2013 against their respective GO schools for forcing them to remove their patka (a head covering worn by young Sikhs), which they are mandated to wear, at all times, as an integral part of their Sikh faith.

"Sharanjit is a rather shy boy, afraid of doing things wrong or being excluded. Following the ban he took off his patka very much to his distress. I am very happy that the Conseil d'Etat has overturned the ban and I hope my son will be able to put the past year behind him and look ahead to a good future ," Sharanjit Singh's father, Surjit Singh, said. You may watch a short video interview in Panjabi, with Belgian Sikh boys affected by the past year's ban, at www.youtube.com/unitedsikhstv

"The Conseil d'Etat has claimed, in essence, that a school cannot simply impose a ban on wearing outward symbols of religious belief without having grounds for doing so (such as disturbing the peace, proselytising, etc.). If a school nevertheless does this, it represents an excessive breach of the internationally protected fundamental right to religious freedom (art. 9 ECHR)," said Pieter Lagae, Sharanjit's lawyer, of the law firm of Van Steenbrugge & partners in Merelbeke,

In the decision, the Court emphasised repeatedly that Sharanjit and Sukhjot, and, by extension, Sikh students - had never displayed any such negative behaviour.

"We are grateful to all those who faithfully supported us and to the Conseil d'Etat for making this robust decision," said Amarjit Kaur, the President of UNITED SIKHS-Belgium.

You may read a previous press release on our advocacy for the right to wear a turban at http://unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-08-10-2013-00.html

Issued by -
Mejindarpal Kaur,
International Legal Director, UNITED SIKHS
Law-belgium@unitedsikhs.org
Tel: +1778.833.0973

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