Australian Sikh Student Fights for Dastar
Brisbane, Australia — A Sikh family in the Australian city of Brisbane has sued a local school for discrimination after refusing to enroll their 12-year-old son because his religious dress code violates its uniform rules.
"The complaint is the college discriminated against the child by placing conditions on his enrolment that he was unable to comply with because of his religion," the family's solicitor, Scott McDougall, told Radio Australia Tuesday, February 26.
"This case has the capacity to set a precedent that will have far-reaching consequences."
The family, whose members cannot be named or talk to the press under suppression orders because the case is still pending, has lodged its lawsuit against the private Ormiston College with the Anti-Discrimination Commission in Queensland state.
The school refused the boy's application till he cuts his hair and removes his turban in line with its uniform rules.
The family considered the rejection religious discrimination because uncut hair and turbans "patkas" are both strict requirements of the Sikh religion.
But the school's principal Brett Webster rejected the discrimination charges, saying he was abiding by the school uniform rules.
"We're certainly not asking the family or the boy to turn their back on their religion," he told Australian Broadcasting Corporation Brisbane.
"I mean it's a given that people have different beliefs and it's a given we should respect those beliefs. But the question is should the school, should every organization, change its standard policies every time somebody comes along with a different set of beliefs?"
Australia has around 50,000 Sikhs among the 21 million population.
McDougall, the lawyer, said the school's decision is discriminatory because the same schools allowed Sikh students with turbans in the past.
"I'm aware there was a Sikh student who attended the (Ormiston) school in previous years before the current headmaster. He was allowed to wear a turban to school but that was under the previous headmaster."
John Sneddon, an anti-discrimination lawyer, said the school's position could be violating Queensland's anti-discrimination laws.
"If a school introduces a uniform policy which cannot be adhered to by students of a particular religion, it is arguable that the school is discriminating against those students and is in breach of Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Act," he was quoted as saying Tuesday by the Brisbane Times.
The boy is currently attending another private school in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland and the third largest city in Australia, where he has been allowed to wear the turban.
The president of the Brisbane Sikh Temple and a member of Sikh Council of Australia, Paramjit Singh Serai, said Sikh males' turbans should not have to be removed anywhere.
"…Turbans are allowed at almost any other school, so why is this school (Ormiston) different to any other school?" he told the Australian Associated Press (AAP).
"We need to create a bit more harmony and educate the people. They (the federal government) need to resolve this."
The issue of religious dress codes in schools have been the subject of much debate in several Western countries after France banned religious insignia in state schools in 2004.
Sikh and Muslim students were expelled by their schools after the adoption of the controversial French law entered into fruition.
Several international rights groups have dismissed the French law as discriminatory.