California Bill Would Allow Sikhs to Ride Motorcycles Without a Helmet

The Sikh Legends of America wait on motorcycles to start a parade of the Sacramento Sikh Society. (Sara Nevis/The Sacramento Bee/TNS)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (The Sacramento Bee/TNS) — Sikhs and other people whose faith requires them to wear a turban or patka could soon be allowed to ride motorcycles in California without a helmet as mandated by state law.

The state Senate this week voted to grant a religious exemption for the headwear. The measure, Senate Bill 847 from Sen. Brian Dahle, a Republican, cleared the chamber by a 21-8 margin. Eight Democrats voted “no,” while 13 others sided with Republicans.

“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,” Dahle said in a statement after the bill passed Wednesday.

Dahle added that existing state law doesn’t intentionally discriminate against Sikhs and other peoples of faith, but that “the reality is that those who practice those religions are limited in how they can express their customs.”

His office cites the 2021 American Community Survey, which found an estimated 211,000 Sikhs living in California — nearly half of all Sikhs in the U.S.

“Although other countries and our own military make accommodations for Sikhs’ deep beliefs, out of the U.S. states that require helmets, none has exemptions for Sikhs or any other group based on religious practice,” according to Dahle’s office.

SB 847 now moves to the California Assembly.

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