Sikh leadership clash unresolved

Court hearing due Aug. 31 at the Hayward Hall of Justice

FREMONT — It’s been two years since an Alameda County judge ordered elections for leaders of Fremont’s Sikh temple, one of the wealthiest and most influential in the state.

Court appeals by the current leaders, who argue that the state overstepped the church-state separation, have failed.

But the five men whom Judge Julia Spain decided were holding office illegally still are governing the temple’s estimated $1 million in annual income and deciding policy for thousands of Sikh followers who attend the Fremont temple.

The Fremont attorney for those who want elections is furious.

Mark Cohen and his six clients “are not happy that we won the appeal and yet the judge is not willing to move this case along,” the attorney said.

A court hearing has been set for Aug. 31 at the Hayward Hall of Justice. The two parties, including the current leaders and six men who sued after calling for an election in the spring of 2002, will meet to decide what to do next.

The original suit, which culminated in a weeklong trial two summers ago, stemmed from a chaotic meeting at the temple, or gurdwara, at which member Ram Singh called for an election.

The plaintiffs alleged that five men — Ala Singh, Karnail Singh, Sukhdev Singh, Harjinder Singh and Joginder Singh — won by a majority voice vote.

The five current leaders, or Supreme Council members, refused to step down. They are Gurdial Singh, Harjot Singh, Amarjit Singh, Gurdev Singh and Mota Singh.

Judge Spain ruled that the election was invalid. But she agreed with Cohen that the leaders are serving illegally because the temple bylaws do not specify term length for leaders. In the absence of term lengths, she ruled that state law requiring annual elections would take precedence.

Most of those in power now have been serving since 1996, when a different judge ordered an election.

In her decision, Spain ordered the temple to compile a membership list to see who would be eligible to vote. A membership census was subsequently held, but never certified.

After the state Supreme Court refused to hear additional appeals this spring, Cohen wants to pick up where things left off: Certify the membership list and hold an election.

Complicating matters further is another lawsuit — scheduled to be heard in September — brought by the founder of the Fremont temple. Hardev Grewal of Union City alleges that the judge used invalid bylaws to make her decision. He says that, among other things, the original bylaws stipulated that 20 men would govern the temple, and anyone who pays The five current leaders, meanwhile, say they plan to step down.

“We want quick resolution of this,” said Gurdial Singh.

He, along with other leaders, argues the Sikh religion mandates that leaders be selected, not elected.

Others who side with the current leaders say they should step down, but plan to ask the congregation immediately to amend the temple bylaws to allow for the selection of leaders. Jessie Singh, who is not a leader but acts as a spokesman for them, said that if the congregation can’t agree on who should be selected, leaders will be drawn randomly by pulling names from a box.

“The court should not decide (our leadership),” Jessie Singh said. “The community has to sit together and solve the problem. The court can’t do it.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
Alameda Times-Star, USA
Aug. 23, 2004
Melissa Evans, Staff Writer

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 30, -0001 at 12:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)