Washington, DC - Oct 16, 2007 -- This afternoon the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced a new security screening policy that will go into effect at U.S. airports on October 27 and apply to all religious head coverings. The change is a direct result of collaboration between TSA, Department of Homeland security (DHS) officials, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and other Sikh organizations in response to the concerns of the Sikh American community over a procedure implemented on August 4, 2007.
The August 2007 procedure disproportionately targeted Sikhs for secondary screening due to their turban, an article of faith, like the Jewish kippah (yarmulke) and Muslim hijab. The turban is an integral part of the Sikh faith and identity, and removal of the turban in public is akin to a strip search. The procedure resulted in Sikh travelers being forced to undergo an invasive pat-down or removal of the turban. The turban was the only religious article listed as potentially requiring additional screening. Furthermore, the procedure may have resulted in a misallocation of national security resources due to the heightened focus on Sikh passengers solely because of their religious practice of wearing a turban.
And here's the fun part:
Under the new procedure, a Sikh traveler's turban will be accommodated during the screening process by providing additional options to satisfy the security requirements. According to TSA, the revised procedure states: "TSA will now include the screening procedures for headwear within the overall category of bulky clothing and will not call it out as a separate category. Removal of all headwear is recommended but the rules accommodate those with religious, medical, or other reasons for whom removing items is not comfortable. Transportation security officers have several options for screening passengers who choose not to remove bulky clothing, including headwear."
The gains for Sikhs, to summaraize - you will still be profiled and unfairly singled out, but your turban will be called "bulky clothing" instead of "turban." Oh, and instead of making you remove it, they will x-ray your head. Progress!
Additionally, all 43,000 TSA screeners will undergo Sikh cultural awareness training before the Thanksgiving holiday travel season. The trainings will include two tools developed by SALDEF in collaboration with the US Department of Justice: 1. A training video: On Common Ground: Sikh American Cultural Awareness Training for Law Enforcement [watch video]; and 2. A poster called, Common Sikh American Head Coverings [view poster], that TSA is distributing to all 450 airports across the country.