Monday, June 21, 2010

NZ social club continues to bar turban-wearing Sikhs

Some news from the folks in New Zealand:

A Cosmopolitan Club embroiled in controversy after barring a turban-wearing community leader from its premises has voted not to change its entry rules about headwear. The Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club's annual general meeting yesterday voted to keep the club's headwear policy - which bans entry to all people with headgear, including those wearing it for religious reasons.

The Herald understands from club members at the meeting that the rules were relaxed to allow headgear that is worn for "health reasons", such as a bandage or a bandanna used by a cancer patient.

The Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club, in Manukau City, faced strong criticism from the Sikh community last year after it banned leader Karnail Singh from entering to attend a function held in his honour.

The matter was taken to the Human Rights Commission in January, and the parties agreed at mediation that, depending on the outcome of yesterday's meeting, the issue could go back to the commission. It was the second time in two years that the club had been taken to the commission. The first time was after it banned a Muslim international student because she was wearing a headscarf.

Despite the club's agreeing at the first mediation to review its head-dress policy, it decided at that time not to make any changes.

Yesterday, the chairman of the Sikh Centre, Verpal Singh, said he had not heard from the club but would be "absolutely disappointed" if it continued to ban guests wearing religious and cultural headgear.
"We will not let the matter rest because the original understanding was that if the AGM couldn't resolve it, then we will go back to Human Rights [Commission] and also consider all the options that are open to us."

Verpal Singh said his group was seeking legal advice for a possible class action against the club.
"The decision to ban religious headwear doesn't just affect the Sikhs. It also affects other religious groups and even the wider community, because it would be denying people their right to take certain guests to the club," he said.

A Cosmopolitan Club member, who did not want to be named, said the general feeling of members at yesterday's meeting was that it should not bend its rules for anybody.
"Many felt that once you change the rules to let in people who wear turbans, then the next thing you know is that we will also have to let people wear hoodies and balaclavas into the premises."

The last line is a perfect example of the "thin end of the wedge" argument that is often used to justify being a tight-ass. You claim that to make a small concession would inevitably lead to allowing something ridiculous. (Another example could be those opposed to gay marriage who say things like "If we allow that, eventually we'll have to allow a man to marry a dog.")
In any case the comparison of religious headgear with hoodies and balaclavas is a ridiculous one. A hoodie can be easily removed on request with no real detriment to the wearer. Wearing a hoodie or balaclava could be seen as disrespectful to polite social conventions. Is it disrespectful to wear a turban or hijab? If they think it is, one wonders at the values of a club that interprets it that way. Would they ban a Jewish yarmulke as well?

In one sense I appreciate that to an extent, social clubs need to have a right to decide who is allowed to use their premises, and what standards they apply. But at what point does that take precedence over basic human freedoms and rights of religious expression?

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe this is even an issue! How embarassing, I thought that New Zealand was a bit more progressive than that...great blog by the way, from a fellow Eurasian ^_^