I don’t know a whole heck of alot about Sikhism, but when I both stumbled across this story on my own and had two different readers forward it as a tip, I figured I needed to read up. I knew that they were from a certain region in India and had a reputation as fierce warriors for the British in two world wars. They honed their skills whilst being persecuted by Muslim rulers of India. It was during this period (1550’s-early 1700’s) that it became an article of religious faith that all baptized Sikhs must carry a Kirpan, or ritual knife which is meant to protect themselves and other innocents from injustice and oppression. The Sikhs believe in the notion that they are Sant Sipahi, or “saint soldiers”.
The Kirpan is carried sheathed and strapped to the body with a cloth belt. It is considered an act of great gravity to remove it, with some Sikhs even sleeping and showering with it. This has lead to some conflict with school “zero-tolerance” laws since even young Sikhs carry the kirpan as an act of devotion. However, there are examples where religious freedom trumps hoplophobic lunacy. The Seattle school district is one of these.
“District administrators are citing state and federal guidelines that allow certain exceptions to Washington’s “zero tolerance” for weapons policy.
They say there are plenty of Sikhs, both students and staff, who have carried Kirpans to school for years without incident.
In this case, the knife is to be kept under the child’s clothes at all times.
“The knife can’t come out. It can’t be shown around. It needs to be underneath their clothing,” said Auburn Assistant Superintendent of Schools Ryan Foster. “That allows them to express their religion without jeopardizing anyone’s feeling of safety. If there are any problems, we will take it to the family, but we don’t expect any.”
The presence of knives does not cause otherwise sane individuals to lose control. In fact, the concept of misusing a Kirpan is anathema to a devout Sikh.
From WorldSikh.ca “Understanding the Kirpan”:
“What prevents Sikhs using an article of faith for violence is that very faith, coupled with the same social customs that we all observe. Of all the blades used in daily life, kirpans are the least hazardous because they are sacred: they come with a philosophy that is an integral part of how Sikhs practise their faith. It’s not just a talisman or a piece of jewelry. Removing the kirpan is a serious matter for Sikhs. It is done rarely and only under extreme circumstances – Sikhs even wear the kirpan while sleeping and bathing. Parting with this article of faith, even briefly, requires prayer.
The idea of a Sikh attacking someone with a kirpan is far more frightening, horrifying, and repugnant to those of our faith than to anyone outside it.”
Not everyone is ok with the presence of a knife in a “weapon free” zone. School volunteer Shelby is one individual whose fear of inanimate ceremonial objects borders on the pathological. From King5Seattle:
“One school volunteer named Shelby, who asked her last name not be used, said respecting religion goes too far if it compromises student safety.
“There’s no way I’d go back until the knife was gone,” she said.
Shelby does not volunteer at Gildo Rey.
“They can’t take that thing into the airport. TSA would be all over it. Why is a school any different?” she asked.”
Not only would I disagree with the wilting violet Ms. Shelby, I agree with Reason.com writer Robby Soave who states:
“But there’s no way that allowing Sikhs to carry the kirpan compromises safety. What does this woman fear? Some psychopath is plotting a mass stabbing at her school, but feels the need to wait for permission to carry a knife? That’s obviously absurd. And since the mere presence of knives does not cause rational people to lose their minds and start stabbing willy-nilly, I can’t think of a way in which letting Sikh students exercise basic religious freedoms is a threat to anyone.”
Mr. Soave goes further, and I march in lock-step agreement:
“I find it irksome, however, that school administrators are willing to recognize a faith-based exception to zero tolerance weapons policies while vigorously enforcing them in every other respect, even when other students have equally valid reasons to carry knives. Administrators routinely punish—often with criminal charges and expulsion—Boy Scouts who brought knives to school, student-hunters with unloaded rifles in their car trunks, kids who merely wrote stories about weapons, and others who broke the rules by accident.”
He goes on to recap the Atiya Haynes expulsion in Detroit, which I have also editorialized about. (and got an Instalanche from the post – Thanks Dr. Reynolds!) The whole notion that “weapon free zone” signs prevent misanthropic individuals from bringing a knife or a gun on campus or the presence of common tools creates an environment of danger to children is patently absurd and has been proven false time and again.
I have attempted to relay an accurate description of Sikhism and the Kirpan. Any misrepresentation is an honest mistake and no disrespect is intended. If there is anything a reader feels qualified to correct, please let me know.