UNITED SIKHSWinner of the Sikhs and Charities Award
April 6, 2011
24th Chet (Samvat 543 Nanakshahi)
Press Release
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UNITED SIKHS Intervenes and Assists in Preventing the
State of Maryland from Criminalizing the Kirpan:
Office of the State's Attorney Dropped Case Originally Charged as a Dangerous Concealed Weapon

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • On Jan. 10, 2011, Harpreet Singh was arrested for wearing a kirpan (one of five articles of faith) after an officer saw it under his jacket at a 7/11.
  • UNITED SIKHS joined the case in an advisory capacity and submitted a letter to the Office of the State's Attorney to dismiss charges.
  • UNITED SIKHS would like to thank Michael Cerri, attorney for Harpreet Singh, for taking on this challenge and Assistant State's Attorney Jared Green for protecting and safeguarding the sanctity of the kirpan by dropping the charge against Mr. Singh.
Reisterstown, MD: On January 10, 2011, Harpreet Singh was visiting a 7/11 to purchase anti-freeze. That morning, along with his flowing beard, he was wearing a white kurta and a white dastaar. Based on the police's probable cause report, it seemed that an officer saw Mr. Singh entering the 7/11 and followed him into the convenience store. Noticing the handle of Harpreet's kirpan under his jacket, the officer immediately called for back-up, took Harpreet outside, and questioned him about the kirpan. Even after Harpreet provided an explanation that the kirpan was an article of faith and how it reminds a Sikh of their obligation to uphold the basic dignity of all human beings, Harpreet was arrested and his kirpan forcibly seized from his person.

Harpreet SinghAfter receiving communications from Harpreet Singh and his attorney, Michael Cerri, UNITED SIKHS felt "compelled to voice our concern on behalf of the Sikh community because the kirpan was incorrectly being equated with a dangerous weapon instead of being recognized as an article of faith and an inextricable part of the Sikh identity," said Senior Staff Attorney Hansdeep Singh.

UNITED SIKHS drafted a letter to Assistant State's Attorney Jared Green pointing out that since 9/11, at least 22 kirpan cases have been dismissed nation wide indicating that many courts have found that the prosecution of a Sikh for wearing his/ her article of faith would result in injustice. Fortunately, through the efforts of Mr. Cerri and the assistance of the UNITED SIKHS legal team (ICHRA), Mr. Singh's case was promptly dropped.  It is also important to recognize that prosecutors have broad jurisdiction in making the decision to pursue or drop criminal cases and we are grateful for the measured approach taken by Mr. Green in this instance.

After having his kirpan returned to him, Harpreet Singh's resolve remained firm and unshaken and he discussed the importance of his article of faith. "The kirpan symbolizes the highest ideals for the benefit of humanity . . . as a Sikh it is our duty to protect the rights of others [so that we may live in a] world without  hatred, injustice, and oppression."

CASE HISTORY:
  • Jan. 10: Harpreet Singh arrested at 7/11 for wearing his kirpan. Shortly afterwards, Defense Attorney Michael Cerri takes on the case to argue that the kirpan is an article of faith and as such falls outside the bounds of Maryland's weapons policies
  • Feb. 2: UNITED SIKHS is contacted to act in an Advisory Capacity and provide expertise on what the kirpan means for an adherent Sikh as well as instances of kirpan cases dropped or dismissed nationally.
  • Feb. 15: Relationship between client, attorney, and UNITED SIKHS is formalized
  • Feb. 28: Mr. Cerri meets with Assistant State's Attorney, Jared Green
  • Mar. 1: UNITED SIKHS sends letter to Assistant State's Attorney, Jared Green
  • Mar. 7: Case against Harpreet Singh is dropped

Since we started the Protect Our Identity campaign in August 2010, UNITED SIKHS has successfully defended the practice of carrying the kirpan in three different venues:
  • Freshman student in California told to leave his kirpan at home if he wanted to attend the University
  • Gurvinder Singh from Texas who was initially barred entry to a testing center. UNITED SIKHS is working to create a broader kirpan policy that would protect the rights of all Sikh test-takers
  • Harpreet Singh from Maryland who was arrested at a 7/11 and had his kirpan seized by police

Fighting for religious accommodation is a daunting task because of varying State laws, but UNITED SIKHS will continue, state by state, to promote and protect our articles of faith.

We encourage the Sikh community to vigorously practice their faith and members of the Sikh community should not hesitate to report issues in your respective areas that burden your ability to practice your faith. Call 1-888-243-1690 or email law-usa@unitedsikhs.org.

For UNITED SIKHS to continue its efforts in protecting our identity (both domestically and internationally), we need the assistance of the Panth, so please Donate Now!

Issued By:
Jaspreet Singh
Legal Director

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Protect Our Identity (POI) is an ongoing international campaign launched by UNITED SIKHS in August 2010 . It focuses on the need to protect the Sikh community's right to express its religious identity.  Initiatives under the POI campaign include:
 


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