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Roanoke Rapids charity rebuffs turban-wearing donor

Gary Khera said he just wanted to give. Union Mission employees cited a policy against headwear indoors.

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ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. — A Halifax County man was turned away from a local mission when he refused to remove his turban while trying to make a donation.

When Gary Khera, went with his wife to the Union Mission on Roanoke Avenue to make a donation, a staffer asked him to remove his turban.

"She said, 'Sir, you have to take your turban off. This is the United States,'" Khera recounted. "That made me a little upset. I am a United States citizen."

Khera, citing his religious beliefs, declined. He is a Sikh with dual U.S. and Indian citizenship. Followers of Sikhism do not cut their hair, and men commonly wear long beards and turbans.

Florence Williams, the mission's in-take director, countered with the facility's policy that requires that men remove head coverings indoors. Rev. Ron Weeks, executive director of the mission, seconded her argument.

“He wanted to become argumentative, and I asked him to please leave,” Weeks said.

Offended, Khera left and took his money with him. He said that he and his wife have given to the mission in years past, always by mailing a check. This year, he wanted to see where his donation was going.

The mission building contains a chapel, and employees consider the entire building "the Lord's house," Weeks said. A sign in the lobby outlines the policy against hats or other headwear inside.

"We have policy, and he didn't want to abide by it," said Weeks. "He gave the receptionist a bad time and decided to do a vengeance thing because he didn't get his own way. This was nothing to do with the turban, nothing to do with his faith."

Weeks said the mission would welcome Khera's donation if he mailed it or had his wife bring it in.

Khera denied that he was disruptive or argumentative. He asserts that he calmly tried to explain that he was there to give a donation.

Now he'll take his money elsewhere.

"They should not turn away a donation for the needy, because they misunderstood someone else's religion," he added.

Weeks said he may consider changing the policy because of the incident.