Sikh gurdwara in US embroiled in controversy

A Sikh religious flag displayed at a soon-to-be-opened gurdwara in California is at the centre of a controversy, with some residents saying the American flag should also be put up there.

Residents of Stockton have said that if the gurdwara erects a flag with the Sikh religious emblem, it must also hoist an American flag even higher.

'Maybe they should be Americans first and use their religion second,' said Dennis Regan, a 63-year-old Air Force veteran. 'As a veteran, that offends me.'

Sikhs have countered the idea by saying that no church flies an American national flag, so why should the gurudwara, reported.

'Nobody asks any church to have an American flag; they only ask the Sikh gurdwara,' said Amrik Singh Dhaliwal, president of the Stockton Sikh Temple. 'I don't know why.'

Regan said the local Sikh community needed to make a better effort to assimilate into American culture. Flying a religious flag prominently over the neighbourhood alienates people, he said.

After 9/11, Sikhs in the US have often been mistaken as Muslims and been targets of hate crimes.

'The real problem here is ignorance,' countered Amardeep Singh, executive director of the New York-based Sikh Coalition. 'Our articles of faith make us stand out.'

Singh said the Sikh flag represents peace, truth and justice. 'They're the values that you think anyone would want in their neighbourhood,' he said.

While all Sikh halls fly their religious flag, an American flag would be an odd addition, he said. 'It's unusual. Usually temples of worship don't maintain flags of nations.'

Said Jespal Singh Brar, a resident and temple member: 'America is all about freedom of religion, the pursuit of happiness. It's almost ridiculous, because the ideals of the Sikh religion are intertwined with American values.'