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Sikh boy wins right to wear turban at Christian school

Sidhak Singh Arora and his father Sagardeep Singh Arora. Source: SBS

The Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal has ruled that Melton Christian School has breached the Equal Opportunity Act by discriminating against a five-year-old turban wearing boy, Sidhak Singh Arora.

A Melbourne Sikh family has a favourable outcome against a Christian college that refused entry to their son because he wears a turban.

Sagardeep Singh Arora told SBS Punjabi that VCAT has ruled MCC has breached the state's Equal Opportunity Act by placing uniform conditions on his son’s enrolment. 

“It is a great outcome. We are very pleased to hear this decision,” said Mr Arora.

“The case will set a precedent for everyone else who wants their children to practice their religion or faith and cannot do it because some schools’ uniform policy excludes them from enrolment due to their appearance or their religious beliefs.”

“We’ll be in touch with the school to resolve this issue.”

Melton Christian College , which during the hearing insisted its decision was lawful under exemptions to the Equal Opportunity Act, said it would work with the family to find "a constructive way forward".

"We had thought that we were acting in accordance with the law, and so we respect the finding of VCAT," principal David Gleeson said.

The decision, which was handed down on Tuesday, could have wide-ranging implications for schools and the uniform policies they set, reported The Age.

The VCAT decision is also a win for the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC), who intervened in the case as the independent watchdog for equality law.

During the VCAT hearing, the commission's head of legal and dispute resolution, Sarah Bendall, said it's an important test case for the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

"We would encourage all schools to look at their polices and make sure they are compliant with the legislation," said Ms Bendall.

UNITED SIKHS provided legal representation to Singh family with the support of a local law firm the Herbert Smith Freehills.

Mejindarpal Kaur, International Legal Director from UNITED SIKHS told SBS Punjabi that their organization is raising this issue in the interests of all religious minorities.

A joint statement issued by Sagardeep Singh (applicant), UNITED SIKHS, Victorian Sikh Gurduaras Council, Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria and Supreme Sikh Council of Australia, states that the Sikh community is pleased with the VCAT decision.

“We the undersigned, on behalf of the Sikh community of Victoria, Australia, welcome VCAT's decision that the Melton Christian College (MCC) had violated the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 by indirectly discriminating against 5 year old Sidhak Singh, when the school refused to enrol him because he wears a patka, a head wear worn by Sikh children.”

“We are very pleased that religious freedom, as protected by the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities and the Equal Opportunity Act, is alive in Victoria. We look forward to sitting down with the MCC to find an amicable resolution, as ordered by VCAT.”

The story that was first broadcast on SBS Punjabi triggered a nation-wide debate about the ‘right to education’ of children struggling with issues of ‘identity’ and ‘religious freedom’.

Video - The family of 5-year-old Sidhak Singh is fighting for what they call his right to study in a Christian school.

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