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Court rules Turlock Sikh Temple takeover illegal
Sikh temple pic2
Members of the Turlock Sikh Temple celebrate the opening of the temple on 5th Street and Linwood Avenue in 2011. The Stanislaus Superior Court ruled that the takeover of the temple administration in June 2013 was illegal. The running of the temple will be turned over to the board of directors elected in January 2013. - photo by Journal file photo

A Stanislaus Superior Court ruling found a group of Turlock Sikh Temple members acted illegally in taking control of the temple in June 2013.

According to court documents, a rift developed between two factions of the temple over the decision of the board of directors to terminate the contract of Attar Singh, a priest of the temple. The disagreement turned physical on June 2, 2013, when a fight broke out in front of the temple. A few weeks after the fight, a group of temple members including Gurjeet Singh, Gurdev Singh, Davinder Singh, Nirmal Singh Chandi, Singh Sandu, Havinder Singh Kullar and Gurjit Singh Dhillon, changed the locks on the temple doors, took control of the office and corporate records of the temple and began running its affairs.

The directors who were elected by temple members in January 2013 filed a complaint against this group claiming the change occurred by force and without a proper election. The court agreed.

The court ruled that the defendants must give up control of the temple's facilities, records and finances immediately and are prohibited from serving as officers or directors of the Turlock Sikh Temple for the next five years.

"I am pleased and thankful that this ruling came out," said Harinder Grewal, a member of the Turlock Sikh Temple who testified on behalf of the elected board. "Nobody should ever use threat of force to take over, not only God's house, but any property or organization."

Grewal called the ruling "historic" and said it will be a precedent for future court cases involving the hostile takeover of Sikh temples across the United States. He said these takeovers are happening frequently, with money being the motivating factor.

"After a two-year legal battle, the legal order was loud and clear," said Grewal.

The five elected board members who filed the complaint — Kirpal Kaeley, Harvinder Bains, Gurdev Singh Basra, Amrik Singh Rai and Sukhminder S. Deol — will resume control of the temple until the next election  in April 2016, which will be supervised by the court.

The court also ordered that a committee be created to draft a temple membership application to be presented to the court for approval. The membership committee will then be charged with the duty of admitting or denying membership to the Turlock Sikh Temple, ensuring that future elections will involve members of the temple only and not outside people brought in to sway control of the temple to one group or another.

The Turlock Sikh Temple as a religious nonprofit has existed since 1985. The construction of a new temple  began in 2006, with the full construction finishing in April 2011. The temple, located on the corner of 5th Street and Linwood Avenue, is 21,000 square feet and has two stories. The wooden domes were all hand-painted on the inside with murals of clouds, trees and birds.