The head of a powerful US House Committee has slammed the agency responsible for transport security for its "rampant religious discrimination and profiling" of Sikhs by forcing them to take off their turban during security screening at airports.
Tom Lantos, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the abuse of a "flawed" policy, which "humiliates" Sikh Americans because they wear the turban, as an article of faith is "ultimately detrimental to national security".
A recent revision of the Transportation Security Administration policy said any head covering must be removed if TSA agents believe it could contain a threat to security.
"It seems that this policy change has prompted TSA employees to engage in rampant religious discrimination and profiling," Lantos wrote to Kip Hawley, the head of TSA.
The Democrat leader contacted Hawley after being alerted to several incidents of Sikhs being subjected to additional screenings at San Francisco International Airport, his congressional district.
More than 50 incidents where Sikh Americans were ordered to remove their turbans in full public view have been reported nationwide since the new policy was instituted on August 4, the Congressman's office said.
"It is apparent to me that these incidents demonstrate how the inconsistent application of this flawed policy has led to religious profiling and discrimination and the humiliation of ordinary Americans," Lantos' said in his letter.
"Furthermore, such practices feed public stereotypes that erroneously equate members of the Sikh American community with terrorism. Provoking a sense of fear against innocent American citizens simply because they wear turbans is a dangerous precedent that our government should take extensive care to avoid," Lantos said.
Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the US Congress, pointed out that "being a victim of religious persecution myself, I abhor the idea that a US government agency is engaged in a practice that isolates and humiliates ordinary Sikh Americans solely because they choose to wear the turban as an article of their faith".
"I hope you agree that such practices are not only illegal and inconsistent with American values, but also ultimately detrimental to national security," Lantos wrote, adding he hoped TSA will act quickly to ensure no future discriminatory practices are imposed on travellers.
"I am very skeptical that a policy targeting particular religious head coverings, such as turbans, can be effective," he said.