Muslims and Sikhs today publicly criticized a Newport Beach-based amusement park company's policy barring patrons from riding go-carts with religious head dressings for safety reasons.
Three complaints have been filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against Palace Entertainment Ltd., owner of the Boomers amusement park chain.
Boomers forbids scarves, flowing garments or long hair that could get caught in the go-cart's drive chain and cause an injury.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations and the United Sikhs organization held a news conference today to outline complaints against Boomers. The San Francisco chapter and the national office of CAIR filed a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing Monday. A complaint against the Irvine location was filed last month.
On March 17, 2013, two women went to the Boomers in Irvine with their four daughters and two sons, said CAIR-LA's civil rights coordinator, Sammar Miqbel.
"The children waited a half-hour in line, but when they got up to the front the attendant told them they were not allowed to ride on the go-cart with a scarf around the neck," Miqbel said.
The children tried but failed to assure the employee that they had never had a problem before riding the go-carts with the religious head-dress, Miqbel said.
In June 2013, Muslim girls on a field trip from a local elementary school were told at the Irvine location they could not wear hijabs on the go-carts, Miqbel said. Female Muslims are expected to wear hijabs in public for "modesty" reasons, CAIR officials say.
In Livermore, California, three Sikh men were told they would have to take off their turbans before riding go-carts, Miqbel said, adding that CAIR has tried to negotiate a compromise for the past six months.
"We were optimistic we would reach a resolution," Miqbel said. "But we've reached a point where they're not proceeding in good faith to find an accommodation that would work for everybody."
Manmeet Singh, an attorney for United Sikhs, said it would be more dangerous to ride the go-carts without turbans.
"Sikh followers have long hair, which is covered and protected by the turban," Singh said. "The turban is meticulously woven and tightly secures an individual's hair. The (company's) policy requires individuals with hair longer than shoulder length to tie their hair in order to ride the go-carts. A Sikh individual would be better protected wearing their turban while riding the go- carts, rather than remove the turban and tie their hair with an elastic or rubber band that is far less secure then a turban. It is arbitrary and counterproductive to require a Sikh individual to remove their turban, just to tie the hair up with a less secure instrument."
Michele Wischmeyer, vice president of marketing and sales for Palace Entertainment, said the issue is one of safety.
"It is a matter of safety, and we ask that all head wear be removed," Wischmeyer said. "It doesn't matter if it's religious headwear or a wig or a baseball cap or visor or scarf or bandana."
The company's website carries a warning that head gear and long hair can get tangled up in the wheels of the go-carts. All headgear is banned.
"Our stance is safety is our Number One priority," Wischmeyer said. "It is not a matter of race or religion. It's a matter of safety."
Miqbel said CAIR agrees with the priority on safety.
"We share their safety concerns as well, and we don't want to do anything that would jeopardize the safety of our community members and anybody else's safety, but we feel all these other amusement parks with more intense rides have addressed the safety concerns and allowed people with religious head gear on their rides, and we feel Boomers should be able to do the same," Miqbel said.
--City News Service