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New York, June 3 – Senators in California voted in favour of a bill that exempts Sikhs from wearing a safety helmet when riding a motorcycle.
The Senate Bill 847, authored by Senator Brian Dahle cleared the state senate this week with a 21-8 vote margin, and will now move to the Assembly.
“Freedom of religion is a core foundation of this country. We, as Americans, have the right to freely express our religion and I believe that right should equally extend to everyone. Any law that limits the ability to express one’s religion, goes against what this country is all about,” Dahle said in a statement after presenting the bill on the senate floor.
“Exempting those who wear turbans or patkas from wearing helmets is a simple way to ensure that everyone’s religious freedoms are protected,” he added.
According to 2021 American Community Survey estimates, 211,000 Sikhs live in California, which is nearly half of all Sikhs living in the US.
The State Senate was told that as of now, no helmet exists in the market that will accommodate a turban or a patka, but according to members of the Sikh community, a turban is a good enough protection.
Currently, 18 states and Washington D.C. have a universal helmet law for all riders. 29 states require helmets for specified riders, generally riders under a certain age (usually 18 or 21).
Only Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire have no motorcycle helmet laws.
“Although other countries and our own military make accommodations for Sikhs’ deep beliefs, out of the US states that require helmets, none has exemptions for Sikhs or any other group based on religious practice,” a statement from Dahle’s office read.
This question of helmets for Sikhs has also been debated and considered in other countries, like Canada and the UK.
In Canada, Sikhs are exempt from motorcycle helmet laws in several provinces including Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario.
Among the supporters of the bill were the Legendary Sikh Riders, the Sikh Legends of America and the Sikh Saints Motorcycle Club.
According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 5,500 motorcyclists died in 2020, and more than 180,000 were treated in emergency departments for crash injuries.