Update: Controversy Over Sikh Temple Election in Fremont, California

November 26, 2002

Source: The Argus


On November 26, 2002 The Argus reported that "about 3,500 people have applied for membership to the Bay Area's largest and wealthiest Sikh temple, which would allow them to vote in a court-ordered election to decide leadership. However, the Jan. 12 election may be postponed up to a year because the five current leaders, or Supreme Council members, are appealing Superior Court Judge Julia Spain's Sept. 6 decision ordering the election. Spain's decision came in a lawsuit filed after a general body meeting last March, in which six men claimed to have won Supreme Council seats over the current leaders during a chaotic voice-vote election that required police supervision. The spring election was not legitimate, Spain decided, but ruled that yearly elections must dictate who sets temple policy and oversees its estimated $1 million in annual revenue. Current leaders are appealing the court's decision largely because they believe Spain erroneously classified the temple as a corporation, not a religious institution. Religious groups should have the right to select leaders based on their beliefs, said Gurdial Singh, a current leader. That was a major point of contention throughout the five-day civil trial: Should Western-style elections be imposed, or should the religious belief that leaders be selected for life terms be protected? In her decision, Spain also ordered the temple to craft requirements for membership to the Fremont temple -- or gurdwara -- to prevent Sikh worshipers who live far away from influencing the outcome of elections, a factor that some say affected the outcome of the March election."