Melbourne, Australia – The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) will decide at the end of the ongoing hearing if 5 year old Sidhak Singh was discriminated against by the Aussie Christian School, when they refused to enrol him last year because he wore a patka, a religious head covering.
Sidhak Singh’s legal representation is through the reputed international law firm of Herbert Smith Freehills and Counsel Eliza Holt, who were arranged, on a pro bono basis, by UNITED SIKHS, when it was learnt that Sidhak Singh’s father, Sagardeep Singh, was fighting his case alone.
On Monday the Tribunal Member, Julie Grainger, heard evidence from Sidhak’s parents that in March 2016 they were informed by the school principal that Sidhak Singh will have to follow the school’s uniform rule and sport short hair and he will not be allowed to wear the patka. They had explained to the principal that Sidhak Singh was a Sikh and was religiously mandated to have his hair unshorn and covered by a patka.
The Tribunal has to decide if the school’s reasons for refusing enrolment to Sidhak Singh are justified on the two exceptions raised by the school – that the school was implementing a uniform rule under section 42 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and/or that it was a Christian school that is wholly or mainly a school for Christians and may exclude students of other religious beliefs under section 39 of the same Act.
Elizabeth Benning, Counsel for the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission that has filed an amicus brief in this case, will argue when the hearing resumes on Wednesday, 26th July, that the s42 and s 39 exceptions do not apply to the school.
“This case may not end at the VCAT. The party that loses the case at VCAT may appeal to the Supreme Court of Victoria on a question of law. Hence we must launch a community-led campaign so that resources may be made available to defend Sikh articles of faith,” said Mejindarpal Kaur, International legal Director of UNITED SIKHS, who has travelled to Melbourne to attend the hearing.
UNITED SIKHS directors met today the Victorian Sikh Gurduaras Council and the Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria to discuss the Right To Turban campaign in Melbourne.
For a start, UNITED SIKHS and the Victorian Sikh Gurduaras Council, Supreme Sikh Council of Australia and the Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria are hosting a conclave in Melbourne city titled: Freedom and Peace – Is there a Conflict? Religious Freedom will be one of the freedoms discussed at the conclave. See poster here for details on the Conclave.
Media reports on the VCAT hearing may be read here