Knife charge creates conflict over city's weapons ordinance
Dec 12, 2005

The arrest of a Wayne State University student has sparked conflict between upholding the city's knife ordinance and protecting religious freedoms

DETROIT -- The arrest of a Wayne State University student has sparked conflict between upholding the city's knife ordinance and protecting religious freedoms.

Senior Sukhpreet Singh Garcha, 23, was arrested on campus in August on suspicion of carrying a 10-inch knife on his hip and was charged with violating a city ordinance, which prohibits carrying knives with blades longer than 3 inches. Garcha, a practicing Sikh, said the knife was part of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion founded in India .

The charge was later dropped, but the American Civil Liberties Union and the United Sikhs organization have rallied around the student, claiming the arrest violated Garcha's religious rights. His lawyers have asked 36th District Court Judge Rudy Serra to clarify the city's knife ordinance. He is expected to issue an opinion as soon as today that will likely exempt kirpans from the city's knife ordinance.

"I don't believe the ordinance was intended to be applied to cases like this," Serra said.

Kirpans are not considered weapons under the Sikh faith, and carrying them at all times is one of the key tenants of Sikhism, which has 25 million followers worldwide, according to the Sikh Coalition. In the meantime, Wayne State University and Garcha's lawyers are trying to work out a compromise, especially after Garcha was arrested again Dec. 6 for wearing the kirpan. Criminal charges were not pressed, and Garcha was released. Neither police nor Garcha's lawyers would comment on the circumstances of the second arrest.

"We were saddened and alarmed, and it was a little upsetting to all involved in the community that this did happen again," said Harpreet Singh, legal director of United Sikhs. "We are trying to work with Wayne State and trying to prevent such incidents from happening in the future. We hope with education we will come up with some amicable solution."

Wayne State public safety officers first arrested Garcha on Aug. 14 after responding to a call about a "man with a knife, wearing a blue shirt, blue jeans and black turban" walking across the football field. Garcha, an injured football player, was assisting the team at practice. Police found Garcha with the 10-inch knife and another 5-inch blade, also a kirpan, hidden under his shirt, according to the arrest report.

Garcha, an Ontario resident, was baptized into the Sikh faith last summer. All baptized Sikhs must have at all times the five articles of faith: uncut hair, a comb kept in the hair, a steel bracelet worn on the right wrist, a special undergarment and the kirpan, described as an ornamental knife that represents dignity and the struggle against injustice.

Singh said arrests such as Garcha's have occurred throughout the country. But once authorities understand the faith, the charges are dismissed, he said.

Wayne State 's Public Safety Director Anthony Holt said the university is exploring ways to honor Garcha's beliefs as well as ensure the safety of the community. The department had never encountered a case like this before, he said.

Holt said Garcha will no longer be stopped or arrested for carrying the kirpan.

You can reach Marisa Schultz at (313) 222-2310 or mschultz@detnews.com.

Article by Courtesy of http://www.detnews.com
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