Sikhs challenge French law banning turbans on IDs

Strasbourg, France - Sikhs in France have filed a case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg challenging a French law that demands that turbans be taken off while being photographed for identity cards.

According to INEPNEXT news service, the United Sikhs NGO that filed the case says the French legislation "undermines the freedom of thought, conscience and religion".

Mejindarpal Kaur, director of United Sikhs, told reporters here Monday that it was also necessary to go to the international court because "if left unchecked the French law ... will have a domino effect globally".

An estimated 10,000 Sikhs live in France.

The case before ECHR will be the first such since France passed a law in March 2004 banishing religious symbols, including Sikh turbans, from public schools.

The highest administrative court in France, the Conseil D'Etat, has also ruled that public security justifies a law that requires Sikhs to remove their turbans while being photographed for driver's licence.

Neena Gill, a British member of the European Parliament (EP) who was present during the media conference, urged France and other EU member states to reflect upon the British model.

"In Britain those wearing articles of faith including turbans are treated equally. Many turban-wearing Sikhs are police officers, army officers and judges. Therefore I would ask French authorities to reconsider their position and treat Sikhs as equal members of their society," said Gill, a Punjabi who chairs the EP's India delegation.

Gill said Sikhs were facing similar problems in Belgium and Germany also.

"We have to raise awareness how this issue (turban ban) is being abused across Europe. (It) is spreading not just in France but there are cases in Belgium, Germany and elsewhere," said Gill.

Shingara Mann Singh, 52, a French national for over 20 years, said the authorities in France refused his replacement driver's licence in 2005 and again in 2006.

"I will give up my head but not my turban, which covers my unshorn hair," he underlined.

Shingara Singh's lawyer, Stephen Grosz, said: "Forcing a Sikh to remove his turban is an affront to his personal dignity and an insult to his religious beliefs. France is almost alone in imposing this unnecessary requirement."

Six Sikh boys have been expelled from French schools since the controversial law banning religious symbols was passed.

A film, "Fighting For My Crown", which highlights the plight of those affected by the turban ban, was screened at the press conference.

Male Sikhs are required by religion to cover their hair at all times by a turban, an article of faith and an intrinsic aspect of their identity.