WSU changes rule on religious knives
University will comply with ruling and won't arrest
Sikh students who carry 10-inch kirpan.
Detroit Jan. 07, 2006
Marisa Schultz / The Detroit News
Carrying a Sikh kirpan is no different than wearing
a Star of David, a judge's ruling states.
Wayne State University is reviewing its public safety
policies after a Detroit judge ruled a Sikh student
shouldn't have been arrested on campus for carrying
a 10-inch knife, known as a kirpan.
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
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
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
You can reach Marisa Schultz at (313) 222-2310 or