California Gov. Brown signs bill banning religious discrimination

The Sacramento BeeSeptember 10, 2012 

Blue, green, saffron, red, pink and black turbans crowded around Gov. Jerry Brown on the north steps of the Capitol on Saturday when he signed two bills designed to battle anti-Sikh discrimination.

"Breaking down prejudice is something you've got to do every day, and to help us do that, I'm going to sign a couple of bills," Brown told an enthusiastic crowd of 500 Sikhs from as far away as Texas and Colorado. "Sikhs everywhere can see in California they are a powerful presence."

The Workplace Religious Freedom Act, Assembly Bill 1964 by Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, ensures that employees receive equal protection under law, protecting workers who wear turbans, hijabs and yarmulkes. In California, employers faced over 500 cases of religious discrimination in 2011.

Brown declined to wear a turban, saying, "I've worked hard to get my head cleared," but honored the thousands of Sikhs who have given their lives in a long history of struggle for religious freedom both in India and the United States.

Brown also signed Senate Bill 1540, sponsored by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, changing how history and social sciences are taught in schools so that students learn about the history, tradition and theology of California Sikhs.

Education can blunt hatred, prejudice and fatal misunderstandings, such as the massacre of Sikhs outside a Wisconsin temple, Brown said.

Since the Gold Rush of 1849, California's been built by waves of immigrants – including Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Mexicans, Punjabis and Europeans – Brown said.

"My own great-grandfather came here in 1852 from Germany and didn't speak English," Brown said. "He was driving a stagecoach from Placerville, then called Hangtown. ... There's always new and different people coming around – they speak 113 languages in California," Brown said.

"Both bills represent landmark achievements that will increase protections for all religious observers in the workplace and expand awareness of the 100-year history of Sikhs in California," said Balbir Dhillon, president of the Sacramento Sikh Temple.

Yuba City's Didar Singh Bains, one of the biggest growers in California, took the stage wearing a blue turban and noted Sikhs set aside money for charity and pay taxes.

"When we die, the money stays here," Bains said.

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