Press Release: Sunday, 04 December 2005, (21st Maghar, Samvat 537 Nanakshahi)
Detroit, Michigan, USA—UNITED SIKHS, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, and attorney Mike Gibbs successfully persuaded a City of Detroit prosecutor to drop charges last month against Sukhpreet Singh, a 23-year-old Wayne State University student, for wearing a Kirpan, his article of faith, on his university campus.
Harpreet Singh, Legal Director of UNITED SIKHS, said, “The City of Detroit has acted in a reasonable manner by dropping this case in realizing that Sikh Americans should not be denied their constitutional right to freely practice their religion.”
“We will continue to work in stages with the Wayne State University, the City of Detroit, the Wayne County and the State Of Michigan, to establish a best practice for dealing with Sikhs wearing a Kirpan,” he added.
“We had argued to the court and prosecutor that the Kirpan, a scimitar in a sheath, is not a weapon and should not be viewed as one. UNITED SIKHS had submitted a memorandum to the prosecution and the judge arguing for the right to wear a Kirpan,” Harpreet Singh said.
Mike Gibbs, attorney retained by UNITED SIKHS, and ACLU had submitted to the court and the prosecutor that the Detroit Knife ordinance is unconstitutional in its application to the Kirpan. An amicus brief was prepared jointly by UNITED SIKHS, Mike Gibbs and ACLU which said that the Detroit Knife Ordinance violates the freedom of religion clause of the Michigan Constitution.
Both the Kirpan memo and the ACLU amicus brief were given to the Detroit Prosecutor and the Judge. The City of Detroit Prosecutor responded that she would drop the charges.
"The difficulty in this case was overcoming the tendency of prosecutors and police to view possession of the Kirpan as a criminal offence. I think the key to success for this issue is to educate the courts, prosecutors, police officers, and community leaders about the Sikh Articles of Faith,” said Attorney Gibbs.
“The wearing of the Kirpan should be respected by all persons. Educating our communities will go a long way towards achieving its acceptance. And when appropriate, as it was in this case, we can bring a constitutional challenge to an ordinance which burdens the free exercise of religion. It's very rewarding when we make great progress in cases like this. It was especially nice to see the Kirpan returned to Mr. Singh. And we couldn't have achieved such a great outcome without the tremendous support of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and UNITED SIKHS," he added.
Sukhpreet Singh was arrested on August 24, 2005, after two police officers asked him to either remove his Kirpan or face arrest. Singh explained to the officers that the Kirpan was a mandatory article of his Sikh faith and that he could not remove it.
Thereafter, the Detroit City Police arrested and pressed charges for violating the Knife Ordinance Code. Sukhpreet Singh was released on bond, without his Kirpan.
Soon after the incident, Sukhpreet Singh contacted UNITED SIKHS, who retained Attorney Mike Gibbs to represent Singh.
UNITED SIKHS continues to work with the Detroit Sikh community and Detroit city agencies and leaders in creating awareness of the Sikh Faith by providing Sikh awareness training. It is with this intention, we are faithful we will strengthen communication and understanding with our fellow Americans.
To read previous Press Releases on UNITED SIKHS civil and human rights advocacy click www.unitedsikhs.org/advocacy_issues.htm
Director, International Civil and Human Rights Advocacy
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