Legal Victory: Belgian Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Turban in GO School
"The UNITED SIKHS legal team has been in the forefront of a roller-coaster legal battle since 2006, when a lower court overturned a turban ban in GO Schools, which was then reinstated by another court on a technicality, before the ban was firmly overturned by the Conseil d'Etat yesterday," said Mejindarpal Kaur, international advocacy group.
"After many years of peaceful resistance, the Sikhs have been proved right,"said Pieter Lagae, UNITED SIKHS' Belgian lawyer.
15th Oct 2014, St Truiden, Belgium - The Belgian Conseil d'Etat has upheld the freedom of religion of Sikh students by overturning the ban on the Sikh Turban in a GO school, which is part of a large group of schools attended by many Sikh students in the Flemish part of Belgium.
13-year- old Sharanjit Singh was forced to remove his patka to attend a Belgian school for the past one year
"In a landmark decision dated 14th Oct 2014, which was communicated to us yesterday, the Highest Administrative Court has held that GO has the obligation to organise its education without harming the respect for diversity and plurality," said Mejindarpal Kaur, International Legal Director of UNITED SIKHS, an international advocacy NGO that has led the legal campaign to reverse the ban on the Sikh turban.
Sharanjit Singh, then a 12 year old, brought an action in Sept 2013 against his GO school for forcing him to remove his patka (a head covering worn by young Sikhs), which he is mandated to wear, at all times, as an integral part of his Sikh faith.
"Sharanjit is a rather shy boy, afraid of doing things wrong or being excluded. Following the ban he took off his patka very much to his distress. I am very happy that the Conseil d'Etat has overturned the ban and I hope my son will be able to put the past year behind him and look ahead to a good future ," Sharanjit Singh's father, Surjit Singh, said. You may watch a short video interview in Panjabi, with Belgian Sikh boys affected by the past year's ban, at www.youtube.com/unitedsikhstv
"The Conseil d'Etat has claimed, in essence, that a school cannot simply impose a ban on wearing outward symbols of religious belief without having grounds for doing so (such as disturbing the peace, proselytising, etc.). If a school nevertheless does this, it represents an excessive breach of the internationally protected fundamental right to religious freedom (art. 9 ECHR)," said Pieter Lagae, Sharanjit's lawyer, of the law firm of Van Steenbrugge & partners in Merelbeke,
In the decision, the Court emphasised repeatedly that Sharanjit, and by extension, Sikh-students - had never displayed any such negative behaviour. Mr Lagae, who also represents 10 year old Sukhjot Singh, who was forced to leave another GO school because he refused to remove his patka, expects a positive decision in his case too.
"We are grateful to all those who faithfully supported us and to the Conseil d'Etat for making this robust decision," said Amarjit Kaur, the President of UNITED SIKHS-Belgium.
You may read a previous press release on our advocacy for the right to wear a turban here.
UNITED SIKHS and the Belgian Sikh Sangat have, since 2006, equally paid approximately £67,000/ $103,00 USD for legal fees, translation costs and other expenses for fighting the Belgian turban ban.
UNITED SIKHS thanks its lawyers, supporters, volunteers and directors for the hard earned legal victories.