UNITED SIKHSWinner of the Sikhs and Charities Award
January 7, 2010
23rd Poh (Samvat 542 Nanakshahi)
Press Release
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Community Alert: Plymouth-Canton Community Schools in Michigan Seeks to Find a Compromise on the Wearing of the Kirpan

Superintendent has Issued a Temporary Ban Until a Resolution/ Compromise has Been Reached

Highlights:

  • UNITED SIKHS and SALDEF have jointly engaged the School District and the local sangat to ensure that any concerns over safety are appropriately balanced with the fundamental right of Sikh students to carry the kirpan.

  • The Michigan State Constitution provides strong protection for free exercise of religion.

  • The Sikh community must make their voices heard and begin to engage and educate those who do not understand our articles of faith.

Michigan, USA: UNITED SIKHS is deeply concerned over the temporary ban of the kirpan from Plymouth-Canton Community Schools (P-CSS). Initially, the approach by the school was respectful and measured. The Principal of Bentley Elementary School recognized the religious significance of the kirpan and was inclined to allow the young Sikh boy to continue wearing his kirpan until the District convened a meeting to discuss a proper resolution.

However, Deputy Superintendent, Kenneth J. Jacobs, issued a memo that stated "until such time as a compromise is reached, any and all religious emblems that resemble a weapon are strictly prohibited." UNITED SIKHS and SALDEF wrote to the Superintendent to allow the student to continue practicing his faith while the District worked with civil rights advocates to fashion an appropriate resolution. Nonetheless, we are hopeful that the Superintendent is sincere when he wrote that the District values the "right of all students to practice their religion and wear religious symbols."

Kirpan with Gatra

Looking forward at the legal arguments underpinning this case, under the Michigan Constitution, any limitation to the free exercise of religion can only be met if a compelling governmental interest (highest threshold) is found and also if the least restrictive means are used. Hence, an absolute prohibition on the kirpan would likely violate Michigan's protection of religious freedom under the State Constitution because a complete ban would not be the least restrictive means.

UNITED SIKHS will strive to coordinate efforts with other civil rights organizations to ensure that our articles of faith are safeguarded. We emphasize that this is not an issue only for advocates, instead, it is an opportunity for all Sikhs to take the initiative to educate their fellow brothers and sisters about what Sikhi is and why our articles of faith are an inextricable part of who we are.

One effort by the Sikh community to reach out to their neighbors has already begun with the creation of a Community Forum on Jan. 6, 2011 at St. Thomas a'Becket Catholic Church in Canton. With the assistance of the Michigan Sikh sangat, concerned parents and general community members learned about Sikhs, their beliefs, their values, and how the five articles of faith inform the spiritual development of a Sikh. Also, a question and answer session followed where a more intimate dialogue between both Sikhs and non-Sikhs could continue.

UNITED SIKHS, SALDEF, and Sikh Coalition in collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU Michigan) will continue to pursue this case until an amicable resolution has been reached. Sikh students should practice their faith fearlessly without having to choose between religious adherence and obtaining a proper education.

Please see our previous efforts in protecting the rights of Sikhs to wear their kirpans: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-12-10-2010-00.html

Issued by:

Hansdeep Singh
Senior Staff Attorney
UNITED SIKHS
646-688-3525

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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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