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Sikh student allowed to carry small religious sword (Kirpan)

GREENBURGH, March 16, 2005

Laders in the Central 7 school district have cleared the suspension record of a 15-year-old student who wore a small ceremonial knife to school and agreed to let him wear a smaller version of the sacred symbol.

Ninth-grade honors student Amandeep Singh of Hartsdale had been wearing a kirpan — an article of faith in the Sikh religion — since he was baptized at age 8. Many of his friends and teachers knew about it, his family said. But on Feb. 4, Singh was suspended from Woodlands High School for eight days and charged with carrying a weapon.

"We had to balance the student's First Amendment rights along with the safety of all of our students in the district," said Schools Superintendent Josephine Moffett, explaining that weapons of all kinds are forbidden at school. She said the kirpan was the size of a knife.

Singh's brother, Kamaldeep Singh, a 22-year-old financial analyst for Morgan Stanley, said the kirpan was 3 inches long and "as sharp as a butter knife." Speaking for Amandeep, who was ill yesterday, he said their family brought in a steel ruler and a compass to show school officials that common classroom utensils were sharper. He said Amandeep has explained the significance of the kirpan to some of his teachers, but never displayed it at school until the interim principal asked to see it last month.

"He never had any disciplinary problems. Teachers loved him. They knew about the kirpan," he said. "It's ironic, because it is a place of education, but if the school was educated about this, this would never have happened, because they saw it as a weapon, and we view it as an article of faith comparable to a yarmulke or a cross."

Kamaldeep Singh said their family is indebted to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, which sent lawyers to negotiate an agreement between the family and school.

"What we have here is evidence of religious discrimination," said Jared Leland, media and legal counsel for Becket. "He was really being forced to choose between attending a public school and practicing his faith, and that's something that the First Amendment does not tolerate."

Leland said he thought school officials were initially misinformed, but were amenable to working out an agreement and dropping the charges.

Moffett said their agreement acknowledges the necessity for security as well as religious expression. "I want to respect his religion — that's absolutely necessary," she said.

In a letter to the family, Moffett reviewed the agreement, in which the kirpan "would be securely fastened into a cloth pouch ... worn under Amandeep's clothing so that it would not be visible."

Kamaldeep Singh commended school officials for establishing a policy that will accommodate other Sikh students.

"After they realized their mistakes, they were very professional about everything," he said. "They're willing for us to come in and educate the students."

On the day he was sent home from school, Amandeep Singh posted a plea on a Sikh Web forum: "I need your help. I was sent home today from school for my kirpan. Past so many years, no one has bothered me about it but today someone thought it would be funny to report me. All the administrators and school resource officer are fine with it, but by law (they) had to send me home until they can get in contact with their lawyer."

He asked for help in finding articles explaining the kirpan and about court cases on this issue.

In 1997, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Livingston Union School District in California school reached a settlement that guaranteed the right of baptized Sikh students to attend school wearing a kirpan. It came after three children missed a semester because they were not allowed to.

The Supreme Court of Canada is hearing a similar case.

The ACLU said there has never been an incident of kirpan-related violence in school in the United States or Canada.Source- ( thejournalnews)




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