Monday, March 15, 2010

Your beard is scaring me so bad, that I can hardly sign this lease.

Suppose that you had decided to purchase or lease a luxury vehicle, but upon arrival at the dealership you were greeted by a bearded man. Would you remain at the dealership and maintain your quest to upgrade your ride, unfazed by your salesman’s choice in grooming habits or would you turn on your heels and hightail it to the nearest car lot free of men with facial hair?

Tri-County Lexus in Little Falls, New Jersey would probably hold that you would do the latter. The PR Newswire Website features an article that explains the details surrounding a racial discrimination lawsuit filed on February 26, 2010 by Gurpreet Kherha and the Sikh Coalition against the aforementioned car dealership. In 2008, after two days of training at the Lexus dealership, Mr. Kherta was asked if his beard was a religious requirement. Kherta explained that as a Sikh American, he was religiously bound to refrain from trimming his hair. Afterwards, a recruiter informed Kherta that per corporate headquarters, Lexus company policy prohibits male employees from maintaining facial hair and an exception would not be made in Kherta’s case, thus eliminating him from the interview process. Before he was questioned regarding his beard, the recruiter had informed Kherta that he was "well-qualified, well-educated, and exactly what [Lexus] was looking for".

The Free Exercise Clause of the US Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act prohibits citizens from being discriminated against based on their religion. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, also known as the American Religious Freedom Act, was passed in 1978 to further defend Native American’s First Amendment right to participate in traditional acts of their religion. The Act not only protects Native American religious freedom, but all Americans who choose to openly express their religion, and it will most likely play a significant role in the Kherta case. Kherta’s story mirrors the Pueblo Native American’s fight to publicly practice their ceremonial dances in that both parties actions were religiously motivated, but were considered unacceptable by authority figures.

Since 9/11, Sikh Americans have been unfairly targeted because of their resemblance to media projections of terrorist agents. Sikhs aren’t even from the Middle East, the religion originated in India and the turbans and beards that Sikh men wear are indicators of their faith in peaceful love of a higher power. On some occasions, uninformed Americans have participated in violent acts against Sikhs for no reason other than hate. After 9/11, a Sikh gas station owner named Balbir Singh Sodhi was gunned down by an angry American who defended his actions as retaliation against Arab terrorists. Kherta being turned down for a job solely because of his beard is nowhere near as devastating as his fellow Sikh being murdered for similar reasons, but it is no less important. When any American is discriminated against because of their religious choices, they are made to unfairly weigh their faith against their secular needs. Kherta’s treatment was definitely at odds with the Free Exercise Clause. Before he was dismissed, the recruiter asked if he “would be willing to remove his beard in order to obtain a job as a Tri-County Lexus sales representative”. By defending his religious choices, Mr. Kherta is playing an integral part in ending the mistreatment of Americans based solely on their faith-based choices regarding their appearance.

1 comment:

Dallas M said...

It s good to see someone stand up for their religious beliefs even though it does not fit into the status quo of what is accepted. Mr. Kherta knew that his first amendment rights were in violation when the job he applied for told him to shave even though he told the recruiter that he practices the Sikh religion. With many people so up-tight about whether a person is a terrorist these days, it is sad when a man trying to start making a living for himself is shut out because of his physical appearance without people even trying to understand his background first. Even if the man had a beard I’d buy a car from him just as long as I can get a good deal for it.