It was a horrific display of hatred and violence. On Sunday an armed gunman killed six people and injured many more when he burst into a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee and began shooting.
The shooter was killed by police, and his precise motives remain unclear. What seems clear is that he targeted the Sikh community -- because of a hatred of Sikhs or of Muslims (coupled with the mistaken belief that Sikhs are Muslim).
Since Sept. 11, 2001, Sikhs, with their turbans and uncut hair (a sign of faith), Sikhs have been targeted repeatedly by people who wish to discriminate against Muslims. Islamophobia's tentacles reach far and wide.
For those unfamiliar with the Sikh faith, it is a monotheistic religion that originated in India and is based upon a commitment to tolerance and equality. It has no connection to Islam.
The ACLU has risen to Sikhs defense on numerous occasions.
- In 2009 the ACLU of Northern California helped three internationally renowned Sikh religious musicians reach a settlement with US Airways after they were removed from a flight at the Sacramento International Airport in an incident of racial profiling and discrimination.
- In 2011, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation amended its grooming policies to allow inmates to maintain beards in accordance with their faith in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Sikh Coalition on behalf of an inmate who had been punished for refusing to trim his beard on religious grounds.
- Also in 2011, the ACLU of New Mexico sued an Espanola hospital that refused to address the harassment and abuse of a Sikh paramedic.
Every person in the United States has the right to practice his or her faith without harassment and certainly without the fear of violence. It's a basic tenet of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and core American value.