Religious exemption for California motorcycle helmet law? Fresno lawmaker proposes bill

Turban-wearing Sikh motorcyclists would be free to ride helmet-free in California if Assembly Bill 2392, proposed by Fresno Assembly member Esmeralda Soria, becomes law this year.

California’s helmet law for motorcyclists was passed in the 1990s as a public safety issue, but for former Fresno City Councilmember Soria the measure violates the right to religious freedom for Sikhs.

In advocating the measure, Soria said: “Many Sikhs are motorcycle enthusiasts and they deserve to continue their privilege to ride while at the same time, respecting their freedom of religion in a way that supports safety.”

As Soria noted, California is home to half of the Sikhs in the United States — an estimated quarter million people. Sikhism is a monotheistic faith with origins in 15th-century India.

The right of Sikhs to wear turbans is gaining a growing recognition in the United States, with the Marine Corps recently granting members of the religion to do so in boot camp.

“AB 2392 ensures we safeguard our Sikh community’s right to practice their religious expression freely, while also protecting their and other motorcyclists’ safety on California’s roads” Soria said.

Currently, only Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire have no form of helmet law in the United States.

California’s measure became law in 1992 after a battle that pitted libertarians and motorcyclists, including outlaw bikers, against public safety advocates and medical professionals.

An earlier attempt was vetoed in 1988 by then-governor George Deukmejian.

A 1994 study by the the American Medical Association reported that motorcycle fatalities dropped by 37.5 percent after passage of the measure.

California bill would allow Sikhs to ride motorcycles without a helmet