Battle Creek, MI, USA: Sikhs moved one step further in their continuous struggle to practice their religion freely. Sukhmeet Kaur, a Sikh student in the 8th grade, had been ordered by school authorities to remove her Kirpan during school hours or not come to school at all. The Kirpan is a short religious sword that is worn as one of five mandatory articles of faith by initiated Sikhs and reminds a Sikh of their duty to uphold truth and justice. After being contacted by Sukhmeet's father, Gobinder Singh, United Sikhs legal team wrote to her school, the Endeavor Charter Academy in Springfield, MI. Endeavor is one of sixty-one schools run by the National Heritage Academies in six states.
Attorneys for National Heritage Academies responded earlier this month to United Sikhs, stating that Sikh students enrolled at their schools would be allowed to carry the Kirpan, subject to certain restrictions. Commenting on the result, Gobinder Singh, Sukhmeet's father, stated, "It really affects a child's growth when they cannot practice their faith freely. It is important for my daughter to have her freedom of religion, especially since she made her own commitment to become amrit-dhari last year. We thank United Sikhs for their work on this case."
The National Heritage Academies was first contacted by United Sikhs in May 2009 with detailed information on the importance of the Kirpan, supporting case law, and an offer to conduct Sikh cultural awareness training for their staff. National Heritage Academies replied that they value their diverse pool of students and respect their rights, and would allow Sikh students to wear the Kirpan subject to certain restrictions.
The restrictions are as follows:
Students are required to inform school officials before wearing the Kirpan to school;
The student and their parents are required to sign an agreement that acknowledges that they will abide by the restrictions;
The Kirpan blade must be dull and under 3 inches long;
The Kirpan must be sewn tightly into its sheath, and worn under the clothing so that it is not visible;
The student may not remove the Kirpan from its sheath or from under clothing while in school or at school activities;
The student must allow periodic inspections of the Kirpan to ensure that these conditions are being met.
Commenting on the restrictions imposed by the Academies, Jaspreet Singh, United Sikhs Staff Attorney stated, "We appreciate National Heritage Academies level-headed approach in addressing this important issue pertaining to fundamental religious freedoms. While United Sikhs and the Sikh community do not want any restrictions to be placed on the wearing of the Kirpan, we believe this is an educational issue about the Kirpan and it will take time for people in the USA to realize that the Kirpan is not a weapon of offense, as they have in Canada and the UK." United Sikhs will continue to advocate for the right to wear the Kirpan, and aims to reach a point where the world at large can understand the rich meaning of the Kirpan and the significance it has for Sikhs.
National Heritage Academies has sixty-one schools in Michigan, Ohio, Colorado, Indiana, North Carolina, and New York, and acknowledged that they will allow Sikh students to wear the Kirpan in their schools. Sikhs in the six states were pleased with the news. Tehal Singh, President, Sikh Cultural Society of New York, commented, "It is very good that Sikh students are being allowed to wear the Kirpan in these schools. In the future, we hope that public schools will also accommodate our children's right to practice their faith freely."
Lakhwinder Singh, President of the Sikh Society of Dayton, OH stated, "We welcome this accommodation and appreciate that the school has cooperated with United Sikhs for the benefit of our children. We will continue to work with other schools and United Sikhs to ensure that other schools also understand our community better."
Commenting on the decision, Dr. Gurnam Singh of Michigan stated, "The executive and the trust committees of Gurdwara Singh Sabha Kalamazoo laud the enlightened decision taken by the National Heritage Academies allowing their Sikh students to wear the Kirpan, one of the five articles of faith for the Sikhs. We are also very appreciative of the persistent efforts expended by United Sikhs in promoting understanding of the Sikh faith in the community at large."
Parminder Kaur, President of Sikh Gurdwara of North Carolina stated, "Sikh Gurdwara of North Carolina and its membership are delighted to hear that the National Heritage Academies have made it possible for one of our fellow Sikhs, Sukhmeet Kaur, to continue to practice her faith by allowing her to wear the Kirpan, one of the five articles of faith for Sikhs. It is a significant step in recognizing the importance of tolerance for other religions and their practices, and we look forward to proliferation of such tolerance across other school systems in the United States. Both the National Heritage Academies and United Sikhs are to be congratulated for their efforts."
Dr. Surendrapal Singh, President, Charlotte Gurdwara stated, "We appreciate the decision of the National Heritage Academies authorities to allow the wearing of the Kirpan by Sikh students. I also thank United Sikhs for taking this task of educating School authorities about Sikh articles of faith."
"We appreciate National Heritage Academies level-headed approach in addressing this important issue pertaining to fundamental religious freedoms. While United Sikhs and the Sikh community do not want any restrictions to be placed on the wearing of the Kirpan, we believe this is an educational issue about the Kirpan and it will take time for people in the USA to realize that the Kirpan is not a weapon of offense, as they have in Canada and the UK." - Jaspreet Singh, Staff Attorney, United Sikhs
"It really affects a child's growth when they cannot practice their faith freely. It is important for my daughter to have her freedom of religion, especially since she made her own commitment to become amrit-dhari last year. We thank United Sikhs for their work on this case." - Gobinder Singh, Sukhmeet's father.
United Sikhs encourages the Sikh community to wear their kakaars, fearlessly exercise their freedom of religion, and to contact us with any problems, concerns, or incidents of discrimination. Kuldip Singh, Director, United Sikhs stated, "I thank the Sikh community for their diligent work in bringing incidents like this one to our notice. These are important steps in our communities' civil rights advocacy."
International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy (ICHRA)