Sukhpreet Singh Garcha, a 23-year-old senior and a baptized Sikh, was arrested in August by campus police for carrying the knife on his hip and another 5-inch knife concealed in his waistband. Garcha was charged with violating the city's knife ordinance, which prohibits carrying knives with blades longer than 3 inches.
Garcha said carrying the knife was necessary under Sikhism, a monotheistic religion founded in India. The smaller knife was worn in case the other had to be removed.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the religious group United Sikhs protested Garcha's arrest, saying the kirpan isn't a weapon, but rather an ornamental article of faith that baptized Sikhs must wear at all times.
Judge Rudy Serra of the 36th District Court agreed, saying the city's knife ordinance was intended to apply to people carrying "a knife as a weapon or for some unlawful purpose."
Since Garcha was carrying the kirpan for religious reasons, the ordinance doesn't apply to him.
"There is no question that forbidding him from wearing the kirpan imposes a burden," Serra wrote. "It would be similar to an ordinance that made it illegal to wear a cross or a Star of David."
WSU Public Safety Director Anthony Holt said his officers will comply with the ruling and won't arrest Garcha or other Sikh students who carry the implement.
However, the university still prohibits firearms, explosives, and knives with a blade longer than 3 inches on campus.
The university's attorneys are reviewing possible changes to campus weapons policies to "ensure that everyone can practice religion freely and feel safe on campus," said Alexandra Matish, assistant general counsel for the college.
Serra's opinion upholds the "right of people in Michigan to practice their religion without fear of being thrown in jail," said Michael Steinberg, legal director for the ACLU. "We hope the opinion will provide guidance to the Detroit and Wayne State community about their constitutional duty to refrain from prosecuting Sikhs who wear kirpans as articles of faith."
You can reach Marisa Schultz at (313) 222-2310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.