The U.S. Constitution guarantees religious freedom, and therefore bars law enforcement officers from discriminating against people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin or faith. But Mississippi traffic cops and Pike County Court Judge Aubrey Rimes apparently weren’t going to let that little old document deter them from harassing and humiliating a Sikh truck driver named Jagjeet Singh after pulling him over. And now the ACLU of Mississippi and United Sikhs want state officials to investigate Singh’s treatment.
Singh was driving through the state in January when he was pulled over for a flat tire. After officers detained him they called him a "terrorist" and mocked the articles of faith he wears and carries. In a letter (PDF) sent to state officials on Wednesday, ACLU-Mississippi’s legal director Bear Atwood detailed Mississippi officers’ degrading treatment of Singh. It’s worth reading every word:
As a devout Sikh, Mr. Singh wears a turban and carries a kirpan. A kirpan is a small, spiritual sword that is sheathed and sewn to the waistband. It is designed and worn as an article of faith, much as a cross is worn by devout Christians. Contending, wrongly, that his kirpan was illegal, the officers demanded that Mr. Singh remove it. When Mr. Singh explained that he was a Sikh and that the kirpan was a sacred religious article, the officers laughed at him and mocked his religious beliefs. One officer declared that all Sikhs are "depraved" and "terrorists." They continued to taunt him, and forced Mr. Singh to circle his truck with his hands on his turban while they searched the vehicle. Finally, not content with this humiliation, they arrested him, claiming that Mr. Singh had refused to obey an officer’s lawful command.
…When he returned to Mississippi on March 26, 2013, for his court date at the Pike County Justice Court, he once again suffered humiliation, harassment, and discrimination because of his religious beliefs. Waiting for his attorney in the back of the courtroom, he was stunned when four Highway Patrol officers approached him and ordered him to leave the courtroom. The officers stated that Judge Aubrey Rimes had ordered them to eject Mr. Singh from the courtroom because he did not like Mr. Singh’s turban. Moreover, they told Mr. Singh that Judge Rimes would punish him if he failed to remove his headdress.
When Mr. Singh’s attorney went to Judge Rimes’s chambers to inquire about the matter, he readily confirmed that he had expelled Mr. Singh from the courtroom because of his turban. He further stated that Mr. Singh would not be allowed to re-enter the courtroom unless he removed "that rag" from his head and threatened to call Mr. Singh last on the docket if he continued to wear the religious headdress.
Singh’s experience is hardly isolated. Hate crimes toward and bias-based bullying and discrimination of Sikhs are all too commonplace occurrence in this post-Sept. 11 era. The ACLU of Mississippi also plans to ask for a separate investigation and sanctions when it files a formal complaint with the Mississippi Judicial Commission.