Where is Solomon when you really need him?
The city is on the horns of a dilemma that pits the law of man against the law of God. The NYPD has told a Sikh man training to become a traffic enforcement agent that he will have to trim his beard and lose his turban if he wants the job. At least 50 Sikh organizations contend the NYPD regulations are unconstitutional and they are ready to take the city to court.
Amric Singh Rathour claims that the turban and beard are required by his religious belief. The lawyers hired by the Sikhs will argue that denying him the opportunity to work as a traffic agent solely because of the beard and turban is a violation of the separation of church and state. The Sikhs have collected more than 4,500 signatures on a petition that was presented to Mayor Bloomberg. They argue that the turban will not interfere with Mr. Rathours ability to write parking tickets.
The city will argue that as a uniformed agency, the NYPD has the right to set a dress code. They will allow him to keep the beard if he cuts it back to no more than one inch in length. But Sikh men are expected to let their beards grow.
The NYPD said it fired Rathour because he did not follow the rules. The department will not discuss the dress code or beard policy. They would rather not talk about the fact that Rathour was the valedictorian of his graduating class.
In theory we might be persuaded by the arguments for either side. It seems fair to say no one should be denied the opportunity to work for the city because of his or her religious beliefs. On the other hand, it is hard to argue that the city does not have the right to set a dress code for its uniformed agencies.
There is an expression in Latin: Virtus in medio stat. The truth lies in the middle. If the NYPD can demonstrate that the turban and beard will interfere with Rahtours ability to perform the routine duties of a traffic agent, then his dismissal should stand. But if as seems likely, he can accomplish his duties, then he should be given the opportunity to work.
From all that we have heard, the NYPD would be getting a conscientious employee who will provide a service to the people of New York City.
More than a week has passed and Fire Department investigators still dont know what caused the citys largest Sikh temples to burn to the ground. At this point, there is no reason to believe that foul play was involved or that this fire was the result of a hate crime.
It remains a tragedy.
This is our heart, said a trustee for the temple. Our heart is burning now.
The Sikh Cultural Society serves as many as 25,000 Sikhs living in the Richmond Hill section of Queens and the temple housed a library with more than 15,000 books. Although more than 100 firefighters did their best to save the temple, everything was lost.
Although most people in Queens know little about the Sikh religion, political and religious leaders were quick to extend their condolences. That in itself is good news. The St. Benedict Joseph Labre Parish School has allowed the Sikhs to use the school gymnasium for weekly worship. Both the mayor and the borough president have offered their condolences and their support.
Since 9/11, members of the Sikh faith have felt the sting of hatred and prejudice. Bigots who assumed that all Islamic people are terrorists also assumed that Sikh men who wear beards and turbans must be Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. One idiot even fired a gun at the temple.
The Sikhs have seen the worst of Queens. Now they are seeing the best.
©2002 Community News Group
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