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Yamada introduces new bill to bolster workplace freedoms

Darshan Mundy, public relations officer of the Sikh Temple Sacramento, makes opening comments at a news conference Wednesday at which Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, announced the introduction of AB 1964, a workplace religious freedom act, at Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple in West Sacramento. Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, is center back. Kim Orendor/Enterprise photo

By
From page A4 | April 12, 2012 |

WEST SACRAMENTO — Surrounded by representatives of various faiths at a news conference Wednesday, Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, announced the introduction of Assembly Bill 1964, which would “update and strengthen” the protections of religious freedoms in the workplace.

The event took place at the Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple in West Sacramento.

“Currently, there’s a federal definition of undue hardship, and the state’s definition — it’s a mixed bag,” Yamada told The Enterprise. “We want to strengthen the definition of undue hardship in the state that will provide greater protection to Sikhs and Muslims, and all religious practices that have attire as part of their faith.”

AB 1964 would amend Section 12940 of the Government Code, which prevents employers from discrimination based on a person’s religious belief or observance.

The code reads, “Religious belief or observance, as used in this section, includes, but is not limited to, observance of a Sabbath of other religious holy days or days, and reasonable time necessary for travel prior and subsequent to a religious observance.”

AB 1964 would add: “and the practice of wearing religious clothing or a religious hairstyle.”

It further amends the code to include the wearing of certain apparel or jewelry, carrying an object of faith and styling of hair and beards. The “carrying an object” would give allowance for the Sikhs, who carry a kirban — a small blunted knife — as part of their tenets.

While the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 — from where the bill takes its name — made it illegal to discriminate based on sex, race, color, religion or birthplace for employment, lawsuits have been filed against employers who have found loopholes. Because of their apparel, Sikhs and Muslims are sometimes given jobs that keep them from public interaction.

“Sikhs and Muslims should not have to go to the back of the store to support their families,” Yamada said.

Rajdeep Singh, director of law and policy for The Sikh Coalition, said Sikhs have been in California for more than a century.
“This is a source of hope and inspiration for Sikhs,” he said. “In the private sector, there is discrimination by what people look like. It is a case of ‘separate but equal.’ “

The Church State Council, a religious liberty ministry of the Pacific Union Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventists, put its support behind the bill.

“Because of AB 1964, fewer Californians will suffer the loss of their jobs because of their faith,” said director Dennis Seaton. “Fewer Californians will languish on unemployment rolls because they are unable to obtain jobs.”

AB 1964 faces a hearing Wednesday, April 18, in the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee. If it passes, it will go to a second committee before reaching appropriations and finally the Assembly floor.

“We know California has been a leader in civil rights,” Yamada said. “We need to update it to the changing demographics of the state.”

Davis resident Darshan Mundy, who is the public relations officer of Sikh Temple Sacramento, said there are 40,000 Sikhs in the greater metropolitan area and 350,000 in California.

— Reach Kim Orendor at korendor@davisenterprise.net

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