At the Nov.18 Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees public meeting, two people publicly condemned the board for approving November as Sikh American Awareness and Appreciation Month in a unanimous vote for a resolution at a prior board meeting on Nov. 4.
Two women, Jan Fliflet — who regularly offers a positive prayer for the board during open public comment at meetings — and a woman who identified herself as Shereen Laurie, criticized the board for the resolution. Laurie went as far as to say she condemns the board.
“I condemn this board and I ask that you please reverse the resolution to honor Sikhs. You may open a door that may be tough for you in the future. I ask that you publicly repent,” said Laurie.
Fliflet then offered to pray for the board for Sikhism and “that our founding fathers fought to establish the true worship of God.”
As part of the resolution approved by the Board of Trustees, schools throughout TUSD this month recognized and honored the contributions and history of American Sikhs — who have a large, contributing population in the Valley and in the Turlock area.
Last week Trustee Harinder Grewal, who identifies himself as an American Sikh, went to Turlock High School to speak to students about Sikhism and the contributions of Sikhs. At the Nov. 4 meeting he explained that Sikhism is a religion of peace and equality, and in their teachings they believe in social equality, activism and respect for all religions.
“It was a big surprise to me, I was shocked,” said Grewal. “I respect everyone’s freedom of speech but what they said was very inappropriate and out of line. This is about honoring American Sikhs, who have been here for more than 100 years. The resolution was simply showing respect to Sikhs who are hard-working people who contribute to our society. This nation is all about diversity — it is our strength and in order to have diversity you have to be educated about the different people.”
Grewal says he knows that Laurie and Fliflet’s opinions do not reflect the vast majority of people.
“There will never be a perfect world and there will always be people like this,” he said. “There are no hard feelings, if I get a chance to talk to her I would sit down and tell her I respect her right to free speech.”
Board members did not comment at the meeting, as they are not supposed to during public comment, but did fire back later.
“One of the great things about our country is that people are allowed to speak their opinion — they can do that and it’s their right, but the comments don’t change my position. Honoring diversity is very important to me,” said Trustee Deborah Martin.
Trustee Frank Lima would not comment other than to say, “It was very out of character for sister Jan (Fliflet). I normally appreciate her comments.”