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Sikhs divided over whether temple executives should be baptized believers only

india Updated: Nov 22, 2012 13:16 IST

The Surrey Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara stays divided over whether temple executive committee membership should be restricted to baptised believers only.

The BC Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal of Justice Laura Gerow's decision to invalidate the passing of a controversial resolution, put forward at a temple meeting in June 2011, to restrict executive committee membership to baptised sikhs only.

The Supreme Court judge found that inadequate notice was given to the congregation's around 30,000 members concerning the proposed amendment.

To be a member of Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, one of North America's largest Sikh temples, one must be at least 18 years old, a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant, live in Surrey, Delta or White Rock, and, of course, believe in Sikhism.

In November 2009, the temple's current executive, known as the Sikh Youth Executive, was elected. All members of that slate are baptised.

More than 20,000 of the temple society's membership - a majority of them not baptised - voted in that election.

In June 2011, there was a meeting where a number of resolutions to amend the temple society's by-laws were presented, one of which was to limit membership to the executive to the baptised only.

"There is no issue that this is a significant change to the by-laws and would result in the majority of the members of the society being ineligible to run for election for the executive," Gerow noted in January, after the matter went to court.

Gerow nixed the resolution, finding that inadequate notice was given to members about the vote. In setting the resolution aside, she noted that a society cannot pass by-laws that violate the Society Act.

The judge stated in her reasons for decision that she believes "the court has no role is a religious debate" but added that "given the divisiveness of the issue, it is my view that it is also appropriate to order that any proper amendment to the qualifications for designated offices be overseen by an independent observer."

Gerow's decision to invalidate the resolution was appealed. On Nov 2, Justice John Hall, of B.C.'s appeal court, upheld Gerow's decision following a court hearing in Vancouver.

"This case appears to involve at its heart a controversy between what might be termed certain of the 'old guard' members of the society and some younger members," Hall observed.

Hall did, however, question her order that an independent observer should oversee any future vote on this resolution.

"Such an order immediately raises the query of how the term 'independent' should be construed," Hall stated in his reasons for decision. "One party's 'independent observer' might be considered highly biased by another party. If an order of this sort is to be made, I consider it could only be made after a process wherein respective parties put forward suggestions as to who might properly be chosen to undertake such a function.