Jurupa Valley, California (November 5, 2012)—Finally, a Southern California school district is allowing some Sikh students to officially carry an article of their faith—a kirpan.
At least three high school students in the Jurupa Unified School District will be allowed to wear the approximately 2-inch kirpans at school after their parents agreed to solder them or sew them into the sheaths so they cannot be used as weapons, Superintendent Elliott Duchon said.
The kirpan is one of five sacred articles that baptized Sikhs must wear. A true kirpan should be 6-9 inches and not soldered or sewn shut. It’s purpose is not as a weapon but represents a Sikh’s duty to protect others—even at the cost of their own lives.
“This is an issue of religious freedom and of faith,” said Mary Burns, the district’s longest-serving school board member. “Who am I to deny what is an article of faith of a 600-year-old religion?”
However, board member Brian Schafer argued that edged kirpans should be banned and only kirpan-shaped pendants should be permitted in school, similar to what many Sikhs take on airline flights. Schafer said he planned to ask for a public school board vote on the issue.
“If I were a parent and I knew someone was wearing one of these daggers, I would worry about my child’s safety and the Sikh students’ safety,” Schafer offered, referring to the kirpan as simply a “dagger”.
“This is not a dagger,” Duchon told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. “It’s less than two and a half inches long, the blade can’t be used and it cannot be removed from the sheath.”
Duchon said there have been no complaints or violence involving kirpans at local schools. In fact, this extends to schools around the globe. Finding a case of a kirpan being used as a weapon is difficult.
Canada has allowed kirpans to be worn openly for some time and Canadian school officials have not had any problems.
Wearing a kirpan is required for Sikhs who make the religious commitment of being baptized, said Kirtan Singh Khalsa, a priest at a Gurdwara in Los Angeles.
While Khalsa said he would approve of limiting the size of the kirpan’s blade or securing it in a sheath, some Sikhs would disagree.
“It’s understandable that schools are a vulnerable environment and safety is an important issue,” he said. “Those are reasonable concessions.”
But Khalsa said he would not consider soldering kirpans to their sheaths or using kirpan-shaped pendants.
“It’s not a symbol,” Khalsa said. “It’s an article of faith.”
Harjot Singh, a local Sikh, finds these concessions unreasonable.
“A kirpan must be 6-9 inches in length and should not be shut. This reduces it to a symbol, ” Singh added.
It is constitutional for schools to ban knives as long as such rules don’t target Sikhs or those of other faiths, said Aaron Caplan, an associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. This means the Kirpan is safe for now.
Other school districts have required students to wear a kirpan-shaped charm or a sheath containing a paper dagger, said Tina Jung, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.
Sikh24 was unable to find cases of paper daggers. Most likely this is the official policy, while Sikhs students wear metal kirpans practically.
“It’s a very delicate balance” between school safety and freedom-of-religion concerns, Jung said. “But student safety is always paramount.”
Newspapers such as the San Jose Mercury News published an AP article regarding the Jurupa school district’s decision today that was heavily biased against the kirpan, many times referring to it as a “dagger” and a “weapon”—inferring dangerous properties to a benign article of faith worn by millions of Sikhs around the world daily without incident.