Sikh Americans oppose turban screening at airports
November 8th, 2010
01:33 PM ET

Sikh Americans oppose turban screening at airports

Three of the largest Sikh advocacy groups in the United States are opposing airport passenger screening measures they say require hand-searches of turbans, despite the use of electronic imaging technology.

The Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund are lobbying members of Congress in an effort to pressure federal transportation authorities to re-examine a policy they say unfairly scrutinizes members of the Sikh community.

"Sikh Americans are already looked at differently in this country," said the Sikh Coalition's director of programs, Amardeep Singh. "Once you start pulling Sikhs aside for extra screening, it sends a message that the government is suspicious of them for the same reasons [other passengers] are suspicious of them."

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration adjusted security procedures in 2007 to include provisions for "bulky" clothing that includes headwear, according to an agency statement.

Removal of all headwear is recommended, it said, but the rules are meant to accommodate passengers who may not want to remove the items for religious, medical, or other reasons.

Transportation officials would not confirm whether "advanced imaging technology" can sufficiently see through turbans, citing security reasons.

Despite the advent of the advanced technology, transportation security officers are permitted to use "professional discretion" in determining if a particular item of clothing should be subject to further screening, according to the statement.

Authorities say the policy has remained unchanged since 2007, but Sikh advocacy groups argue that airport security procedures were recently ramped up to include extra screening for all turban-wearing passengers.

Singh said U.S. Sikh groups that had once observed "a patchwork of [airport security] policies" are now witnessing a process in which "all turbans are searched."

CNN was not able to independently verify that claim.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Religious liberty • Sikh

soundoff (104 Responses)
  1. GSA

    Catholics have killed before as well as Christians and Americans have killed many and each one has it's radicals, they all should be checked 100% of the time since they have killed more than Sikhs....that sounds perfectly logical doesn't it? We could all wait 12 hours to get on a 2 hour flight. Nothing can make us 100% safe but there are things we can do that greatly increase our safety, checking 100% of turbans is not the answer and will have no affect on airport safety and security.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  2. Art

    Sikhs have killed before, just maybe not in America. There are radical sikhs too. So, the turban needs to be checked.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  3. GSA

    why did you include the link about the lawsuit over health concerns with scanners? That is not the reason the The Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund are upset by this "extra check" of the turban. Maybe you should read the whole article and fully understand what the problem or debate is here. You are the one that needs to be "educated" and maybe just maybe try not believe everything that is written or said on the news or get your information in the real world and not youtube as you have done in the past.
    As far as Sikhs "getting points with the public", that is absolutley laughable and an idiotic statement. Check your facts, Sikhs assimilate into American culture very well and for the most part own businesses, are well-educated and make a positive difference in the communities they live in. Yeah, yeah I know what you will say, facts please. Get off the computer and check out the real world!

    November 9, 2010 at 10:40 am |
    • honestanon

      @ GSA

      1. You need to do whatever the TSA want me, Texas Girl, Simple American, and everyone else to do. Religion does not trump public safety. No one is going to offer you an apology for that.

      2. Earlier you said "Transportation officials would not confirm whether 'advanced imaging technology' can sufficiently see through turbans... as far as I know there is no difference in scanning a bag, person or a turban." Of course TSA isn't going to tell you the limitations of their equipment, and there most certainly IS a difference in scanning, in that you can either have your noggin irradiated, or simply remove the turban. If the TSA even gives you that choice.

      3. Youtube? Did I show you a video here? Keep to the argument at hand.

      4. I, personally, don't need any reassurance about the Sikhs. I'm sure that you're all perfectly wonderful people – at least I've never heard of you committing any terrorist acts. But it seems that its YOUR members who are concerned with being singled out in security lines and confused with muslims. All I'm saying is that you'd get more positive publicity from a national announcement that says ' the national Sikh organizations have informed us that they will cooperate with all reasonable security measures required by the TSA.' Instead there are those among you, including apparently you and your dad, who'd rather complain and make a fuss. Is it your religion, or is it just the inconvenience of having to re-wrap the turban? In any regard, your persistent objection to such an obvious security need doesn't reflect well on either yourself or other Sikhs. You are quickly on your way to becoming yet another self-righteous, self-prioritized religious sect that is a potential danger to my personal safety. Sure, the Sikhs have assimilated into our society in a positive way. Great. But that's not the issue. Is it? How about the nutter that dresses up like you, and does get through security?

      5. The only reason I mentioned the SALDEF is because they assisted the TSA in assembling information for the inspection guidelines. Now they're complaining? Where I come from that's called talking out of both sides of your mouth.

      6. Fact please? Yep – facts.. Those inconvenient little things that often get in the way. You told me in an earlier string that "most muslims didn't even want sharia to be implemented." I asked for your source(s). You never responded.

      Enough. The brick wall is beginning to hurt my head.

      November 9, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  4. GSA

    They can check each and every turban at every airport in the world and that would not be a problem with me as a Sikh or most Sikhs in general if the rule were fair. I say again though, that anything that can be hidden in a turban can be hidden under most other clothing whether they are different types of headgear, shirts, pants, etc. So why not check all those items? Why not have honestanon and Texas Girl remove all their clothing and be checked EVERYTIME they get on a plane? There is an obvious reason why they are especially mentioning the turban, figure it out.
    Replace turban in this article with any other article of clothing, none are any more or less dangerous and each can hide a weapon in the same manner. So this must mean that for the safety of your families and the American society in general honestanon, Texas Girl and Simple American will be checked fully (all articles of clothing removed and checked) everytime you 3 get on a plane? I don't think you guys do that now or will start to do that....why not? I know you say you will but why haven't you already volunteered to have a full body check when you get on a plane? I'm worried that you have something up your skirt that could be dangerous Texas Girl, not your cowboy hat. I'm fearful that honestanon is hiding an underwear bomb so all ppl wearing underwear should be checked 100% of the time, not randomly. I'm worried about the safety of my kids so Simple American must remove all his clothing to be checked and not just his hat and jacket.

    November 9, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  5. Texas Girl

    THIS IS ALL RIDICULOUS!!!! I am a Texas girl that wears my cowboy hat everywhere I wear go....including on an airplane, and I get asked to remove it EVERYTIME I am screened at the airport. ITS BULKY!! If I were a terrorist, I COULD but something dangerous in there.....

    AM I SITTING HERE COMPLAINING THAT IM BEING SINGLED OUT FOR BEING A COUNTRY GIRL FROM TEXAS?!?!!? LOL, Heck no! To all you Sikhs out there....You are an American FIRST AND FOREMOST. If you don't like the rules that the REST OF US comply with, you are more than welcome to trade in your American Passport and leave our country for one that will respect your religious beliefs....however, your chances of getting suicide-bombed are DECIDELY higher. Do you see the benefits of following a simple rule?

    As an ex-military intelligence operative, I can tell you, it isn't necessarily a SIKH turban that maybe the source of the threat, it is an opportunity that a REAL terrorist will exploit to hurt Americans in any way they can.....don't make it easier for them to hurt innocent people, be part of the solution, not the problem!!

    November 9, 2010 at 9:28 am |
    • Fud!

      Make yerself a sandwich!

      November 9, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  6. usasingh1

    US President Barack Obama has promised to have a close look at the issue of disrespect shown to Sikh religious symbols like the turban during security check up and will find some way to ensure that religious sentiments of the community as well as security concerns of the US officials were taken care of.

    The President said this to SAD member of Parliament Harsimrat Kaur Badal at the dinner hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday.

    President Obama said he would ask the US security officials to consider some ‘credible alternatives’ in this regard. She also conveyed the sentiments of the Sikh community over his cancellation of visit to Amritsar. To which Obama said plans had to be altered because of “time constraint.”

    November 9, 2010 at 9:10 am |
  7. usasingh1

    I hope TSA reconsiders its guidelines and respect Sikh believes. If there was ever an incidents for wrong doing in past, this decision would have been justified.

    November 9, 2010 at 5:31 am |
  8. pghuman

    I think the TSA needs to take an entirely different approach to this matter. In order for them to securely check turbans and not jeapordize the respect and faith of the Sikh community, they first need to understand. For Sikhs a turban is not just a piece of cloth wrapped around their heads for appeal. It has a deeper meaning which dates back to the first of their gurus centuries ago. The turban symbolises an individual's commitment to faith and more importantly, respect. Asking an individual to remove their turban can be likened to, at the very least, stripping in public. Besides, there have been no past instances of smuggling materials in turbans because Sikhism preaches an honest, humbling, and care-giving existence. Therefore, Sikhs do not need to be singled out anymore than the next person.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:05 am |
    • civilioutside

      But what happens if a non-Sikh comes through wearing a turban in which they could be concealing any number of things. How is the TSA employee to know the difference? It's not the Sikhs themselves being singled out, it's the large and bulky thing that could potentially conceal a weapon. The fact that it's traditionally worn by Sikhs in no way prevents someone else from wearing it for deceptive purpose.

      November 9, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • miss jersey

      I personally believe that all headgear should be checked before boarding a flight. What makes you think that only Sikhs will be wearing turbans? What would stop a terrorist from donning a turban containing a bomb if they knew that turbans were exempt from inspection? Yes, you should be respectful of the cultures and traditions of all people, but they should be willing to allow some inconvenience in the name of safety as well. It wouldn't be that difficult to ask a person wearing a turban to step into another room and have their turban inspected. It would afford them respect as well as privacy.

      November 13, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  9. Simple American

    The Sikh will not be "singled out" by this type of search anymore than any American who wears big baggy clothing. As an American, it is a privilege to fly on an airplane–just as it is a privilege to drive a car–not a right. Therefore, you can feel free to hop on a bus, take a train or stick your thumb out and catch a ride. My safety, and that of my loved ones, will not be endangered by anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. As an American, I have the RIGHT to be safe no matter which choice of transportation I choose to use. I'm weary of people who are constantly trying to find ways around the rules, all in the name of religion. You are not being asked to strip naked and waltz through the airport, but instead to merely (possibly) remove the turban. I would expect anyone who is wearing a hat or any other ornament/clothing article of their head to do the same–remove it. It's not slanderous or anti-Sikh behavior. It's a safety precaution. Plain and simple. Stop making mountains out of molehills.

    November 8, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  10. GSA

    @The Rationale
    I don't think anyone is against them checking turbans and doing added security checks on turbans. The difference is, others are chosen at random or for a specific reason (sense of some danger) to be checked more-so than the norm. What there trying to do is make it mandatory to remove and check all turbans which is ridculous. My Grandpa wears a turban and has had extra checks here and there, he flies at elast 10 times year, but he doesn't get checked everytime and def. would be upset if he were.

    November 8, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
    • honestanon

      "What there trying to do is make it mandatory to remove and check all turbans which is ridculous."

      I respect your religion – but this is exactly what should be done with ALL headgear.

      November 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
  11. GSA

    Although I am a Sikh, I do not wear a turban and have no problem with them checking for security issues but what I don't understand is that they can scan through pretty much everything so why do they need to take "extra attention" to the turban? Just a thought, I maybe overlooking the obvious. Seems to me that anyone can hide more in a bag (or multiple bags) in their carry-ons and checked-in luggage which all gets screened as well but not all of it gets taken apart and inspected.
    The part in the article that says "Transportation officials would not confirm whether "advanced imaging technology" can sufficiently see through turbans, citing security reasons." That just makes the rest of the article lose credibility, as far as I know there is no difference in scanning a bag, person or a turban.

    November 8, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
    • honestanon

      @ GSA

      "advanced imaging" refers to a variety of technologies, but currently they all use x-rays in either low-dose or back scatter technologies.

      Read this – please.


      This group suing DHS claims that the scalp receives over 20 times the amount of radiation that's claimed by TSA.

      November 8, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
    • honestanon

      Now read this post, then pay special attention to the comment on the bottom of the page from Dr. Michael Huels, a professor of nuclear medicine and radiobiology.


      New stuff's on the horizon, but two years away.

      So * I * WILL* NEVER* go through a whole body scanner. The can pat me down. I strongly advise everyone to do the same. It would seem to be to you and you dad's benefit to take your turbans off – every time. Inconvenience or your perceived indignity be damned.

      And if you want to score any points with the public, I wouldn't be so resistant to doing it. I'd be on the horn to your national Sikh organizations listed as in this CNN article, tell them to do their research, and then publicly retract their complaints. Then tell them to educated their Sikh const-ituent members. This should be a non-issue. It's been exacerbated by who? The press? Or those who are so consumed with their religious pride that they haven't taken the time to look at the facts of the matter?

      The world doesn't need any more aggravation. Please take your turbans off – for your sake and mine.

      November 8, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  12. TheRationale

    No, deal with it. What supreme arrogance that they think they get a special privileges. Anything bulky or anything that could possibly conceal things is not to go unsearched simply because you don't wish for it to be.. Nobody else likes going through security, so you can either shut up and get in line like the rest of us (poor baby, have to take off a turban), or you can walk.

    The absolute nerve and lack of foresight of some of these people is astounding.

    November 8, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
    • tsingh

      Remember.. some black guy hid a bomb in his underwear. So with TSA logic.. every black man with big "balls" should be singled out and may have to go through the metal detectors naked while the rest of us in line watch and stare. Should that be allowed?

      Removing a Sikh's turban is asking a Sikh to go through the metal detectors naked.

      Nobody is saying your or mine security is not important.. we just have to have the right approach and reasoning so Sikhs don't feel humiliated while boarding a plane.

      November 9, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  13. Reality

    "One name given them was cache-misère (French, "hide misery"), a chic solution to a bad-hair day.[5]" – now we know why Sikh's do not want to remove their turbans!!!

    November 8, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  14. Reality

    Some turban history-

    "People first began to wear turbans in the Sudan according to Leo Frobenius, a German historian.[1][citation needed]

    Roman emperor Augustus depicted as an Egyptian pharaoh wearing the nemes of folded clothThe ancient Egyptian nemes worn by the pharoahs was a kind of head-wrap or turban made of bands of folded striped cloth.

    The ancient Persians wore a conical cap (but it was not an actual turban) sometimes encircled by bands of cloth.
    It is believed that the Arabs of the time of Muhammad, the Islamic prophet, wore Amamah (Arabic: عمامة‎). They were very useful for fending off the desert sand and protecting the head and face from very high temperatures and strong sunlight. When the Islamic empires were established, under the first four caliphs, the Umayyads, and the Abbasids, the new rulers wore Amamah. Head wraps then diffused to populations under Islamic rule, even in countries where they were not previously worn.

    Sequoya wearing a head wrap. The Cherokee are native to the American Deep South region of North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Many Native Americans, but not all, wore turbans made of animal skins, bark and later trade cloth.The Maya peoples of Central America are known to have used head-coverings similar to turbans. This is especially evident in the iconography of the Classic Period (c. 600-900 A.D.), especially from the region around Copán, Honduras (see depictions on Altar Q). In the United States, the Cherokee and Shawnee people used a variety of turbans.

    Probably the largest ever turbans were worn by high-ranking Turks of the Ottoman period, including soldiers. These were enormous round turbans, wrapped around a hollow cone or framework, that often projected at the top. Hence they were called "Sarık", meaning "wrapped". From the 19th century the Turks mostly gave up the turban for the fez at the same time as they abandoned their kaftan tunics for more Western dress. Broad-rimmed Western hats did not meet the Islamic requirement that the forehead touch the ground during prayer and the Sultan issued a decree enforcing the wearing of the fez, applicable to all religious groups. Suleiman the Magnificent was renowned for the size of his turban.

    Men in Cyprus, an island with Arab and Ottoman influences, traditionally covered their heads with either a headscarf (similar to a wrapped keffiyeh, "a form of turban"[2]) or a fez. Turbans have been worn by Cypriot men since ancient times and were recorded by Herodotus, during the Persian rule of the island, to demonstrate their "oriental" customs compared to Greeks.[3]

    Many contemporary images show European men of the Middle Ages and Renaissance wearing headgear that looks like turbans. These hats are actually chaperons, which could look very similar.[4] Men in Europe were expected to take off their headgear in church, and in the presence of a person of much higher rank, like a king. This is not easy with a turban. Turbans also appear in European religious art, especially in scenes picturing the Holy Land, then inhabited by turban-wearers. Turbans did not become a regular part of European headgear until the late 17th century. Men then shaved their heads and wore heavy wigs; when relaxing at home, they removed the wigs and covered their heads with caps or sometimes turbans.

    Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1600s painting by Jan VermeerEuropean women wore a wide variety of headdresses, some of which appear to be wrapped scarves or occasionally turbans. In the late 18th century and early 19th, turbans became fashionable headgear for women. The first recorded use of the English word "turban" for a Western female headdress is in 1776 (OED). As with all styles, they have waxed and waned in popularity. Later Victorians wore wrapped toques; turbans were fashionable in the early 20th century. The French couturier Poiret was known for his Orientalist designs featuring turbans. Turbans were fashionable in the 1940s and 1950s ; one name given them was cache-misère (French, "hide misery"), a chic solution to a bad-hair day.[5] Costumes worn by singer Carmen Miranda in several World War II-era Hollywood films featured turbans, including increasingly outrageous and oversized piles of fruit-as-headgear, supposedly modelled on those worn by Brasilian market ladies. After a precipitous decline in hat-wearing during the 1960s, turbans are now rather rarely seen on women in the Western World."

    November 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  15. Singh

    If security is the issue then we would love to comply, but TSA should also be respectful to the Sikh community, they should figure out a way not to hurt the sentiments of the Sikhs wearing turbans. Its sacred to us, we treat it with respect, it symbolizes ones personal freedom, it stands for universal freedom to all, though many in the west dont know about the Sikh history and therefore dont understand the significance of the turban. maybe special areas for those wearing turbans be arranged to keep away the humiliation one might find taking his turban or other head gear off in public.

    November 8, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
    • honestanon

      "...maybe special areas for those wearing turbans be arranged to keep away the humiliation one might find taking his turban or other head gear off in public."

      They are already required to do this. http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/CRCL_SikhHeadCoveringPoster_2005.pdf

      November 8, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
    • Peace2All


      You Said--–

      "If security is the issue"

      There is no 'IF'... Security is the issue. Period.

      You Said---

      "then we would love to comply, but TSA should also be respectful to the Sikh community,"

      There is no we would love or not love to 'comply.' You, as well as the rest of us, 'have' to comply. It is about security. While I recognize your wanting your religious garb to be 'sacred'.... sorry, nothing trumps the rest our security.

      You Said--–

      "maybe special areas for those wearing turbans be arranged to keep away the humiliation one might find taking his turban or other head gear off in public."

      Maybe you should check out @honestanons post with the link, which, I believe answers your concern.

      November 8, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  16. Reality

    How to become a Sikh:

    "You have to be truly devoted to the religion in order to become a Sikh. Mostly you need to understand the religion. You then drink "amrit", holy water, and then you start wearing the 5 Kakars which are Kes (hair... non cut) Kanga (a comb placed in your hair and then covered with a turban) (Kachera) a knee length under garment, Kara( a steel bracelet) Kirpan ( its a sort of a small sword but not used in a harmful way its just a religious showing) .

    (one wonders if the Kachera is similar to the Mormons' holy underwear?)

    Obviously, bald men need not apply!!

    November 8, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • Ranjit Singh

      Safety and security of the flying public is of prime impotance. Turbans are NOT a religious requirement for Sikhs. Culture and religion are different things. Those who say that Sikh religion requies them to wear turbans are not speaking the truth. Turbans are a cultural symbol and turbans help cover the long hair. Sikh religion does not require the wearing of Turbans.

      November 13, 2010 at 3:26 am |
  17. Jack J

    I oppose all the screening at airports. It's all just a big waste of time. I refuse to fly these days because of the ridiculous lengths they go to.

    November 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Jack J

      You Said----–

      I oppose all the screening at airports. It's all just a big waste of time. I refuse to fly these days because of the ridiculous lengths they go to."

      Are you kidding...? Please do 'all' of us a favor and do *not* apply for 'any' law enforcement/security job. Especially, the TSA.


      November 9, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  18. honestanon

    There's many religious head coverings in the world, but a religious custom should not trump public safety. If the wearer respects the efforts our country is forced to take to protect the public, they'll just take 'em off. The TSA training guidelines require respect to the passengers. This should be reciprocated.


    The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) provided information to Homeland Security for the preparation of these TSA training materials.

    November 8, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
    • Disa

      Does it really protect passengers?

      November 9, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • honestanon

      Who knows... does taking off my shoes? Every day is a new adventure where we discover new and exciting ways to kill people. Only the TSA can answer your question.

      November 9, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
    • Aqbal

      Well said, a religious custom should not compromise security of the flying public. Bulky clothing should be removed for security checking to be effective. Pakistanis and Arabs could easily pass for Sikhs once they put on a turban . It should be compulsory for ALL bulky clothing to be removed during the security check. Small price to pay for a safe flight.

      November 13, 2010 at 3:18 am |
    • John

      Well the turban to Sikhs is not just a bulky piece of cloth it is their pride and honor, and removing that in public for security measures and playing with someones religious belief its just not right. People are ignorant and need to be educated where Sikhs have come from and what they believe in. Sikhs have a history of fighting against injustice so get your facts straight people as I had a chance to learn about them and I wish you could do the same.

      December 6, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  19. Vrodel

    Turbans need to be worn by everyone. Some, like the evil and hate-filled Christians, need to wear their turbans all the way down to their necks. 😀

    November 8, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
    • dutchblitz

      @ Vrodel And your post was not hate-filled?

      November 8, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  20. Little Timmy

    I want a Turbo Turban for Christmas!

    November 8, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.