Zero Tolerance

If Sikh Kids Can Bring Knives to School, Why Can't Everyone Else?

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Kirpan
Wikimedia Commons

Late last week, administrators at a Washington state school district decided to let a Sikh boy carry the kirpan on school property. The kirpan is a ceremonial knife central to the Sikh faith; all baptized Sikhs are expected to carry one.

The decision, according to KING 5 News, merely confirmed standard practice. "Plenty of Sikhs, both students and staff" have worn their kirpans at school for years, it seems. Administrators recognized that this is an exception to state and federal zero tolerance weapons policies, which strictly prohibit guns and knives—even pretend ones—anywhere near a school.

Predictably, alarmists were alarmed:

One school volunteer named Shelby, who asked her last name not be used, said respecting religion goes too far if it compromises student safety.

"There's no way I'd go back until the knife was gone," she said.

But there's no way that allowing Sikhs to carry the kirpan compromises safety. What does this woman fear? Some psychopath is plotting a mass stabbing at her school, but feels the need to wait for permission to carry a knife? That's obviously absurd. And since the mere presence of knives does not cause rational people to lose their minds and start stabbing willy-nilly, I can't think of a way in which letting Sikh students exercise basic religious freedoms is a threat to anyone.

I find it irksome, however, that school administrators are willing to recognize a faith-based exception to zero tolerance weapons policies while vigorously enforcing them in every other respect, even when other students have equally valid reasons to carry knives. Administrators routinely punish—often with criminal charges and expulsion—Boy Scouts who brought knives to school, student-hunters with unloaded rifles in their car trunks, kids who merely wrote stories about weapons, and others who broke the rules by accident. Consider the case of Atiya Haynes, a 17-year-old Detroit girl who was expelled after her principal performed a random search of her purse and discovered a pocketknife. The pocketknife was a gift from her grandfather; she had carried it during the summer, while biking across Detroit to her job. Haynes had long since forgotten about it.

Do the Atiyas of the world really deserve fewer freedoms than Sikh students? It's true that different standards apply, since Sikh students' beliefs arguably receive special protection under the First Amendment and federal law.

Regardless, if administrators are capable of empathizing with the Sikh student's plight, they should extend this common sense evaluation to other students. All kids deserve relief from draconian and nonsensical restrictions of their freedoms, not just the faithful.

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65 responses to “If Sikh Kids Can Bring Knives to School, Why Can't Everyone Else?

  1. This is interesting interplay between equal protection and religious freedom. Sikh kids should be able to bring knives because they have a right to religious freedom and their religion demands it. Once the school makes that exception, the entire ban then fails for equal protection, since it no longer can even pass the rational relationship test. The point of banning knives is to keep kids from stabbing each other. The only way a ban can rationally accomplish that is if it bans all kids from having knives. If it can’t do that consistent with the freedom of religion, then it fails even the rational relationship test and must go.

    1. What was that case when the court said that laws of general application that impinge on some religious freedoms aren’t necessarily in violation of the First Amendment? It wasn’t all that long ago if I remember correctly (meaning in the last couple of decades).

      1. I forget but I remember the case. And under the case law the Sikhs are probably screwed here. I just don’t agree with the case law. My view is that if you can’t enforce a ban consistent with the 1st Amendment, then the ban isn’t constitutional. The solution should be not have the ban not make a special exception for religion.

        1. Governments can grant religious exemptions even where they are not required

          1. Maybe they can. But when granting the exception defeats the entire purpose of the law, they are going to run into equal protection problems.

            Here, the point of the ban is to keep knives out of schools in the name of safety. If you let a percentage of your student body bring knives anyway, you have defeated the entire purpose of the ban. Maybe you could say that banning the rest of the kids achieves something but it is a tough sell.

            1. You don’t defeat the entire purpose, just part of it. If you think the very presence of knives a danger then more knives is worse than less

              1. No. The more knives carried by someone who is dangerous the worse. A knife carried by someone who is not dangerous is not a danger. The state admits this when it grants the exception.

                If you grant the exception, even a dangerous Sikh gets to carry a knife while even the most peaceful non Sikh can’t. That totally defeats the purpose of the law. There is nothing about being a Sikh that makes a student more or less likely to use a knife.

                1. “If you grant the exception, even a dangerous Sikh gets to carry a knife ”

                  That doesn’t follow, it doesn’t mean any Sikh under any circumstance.

                  1. Doesn’t matter. The Sikh gets to carry as a default. We only stop him if he does something dangerous, which may or may not be in time to stop the harm. The non-Sikh never gets that benefit. Maybe if there was only one Sikh in the school, the argument would work. But if you have a significant percentage of them and they are all carrying knives until you have reason to thing they are dangerous, whatever that is, the entire purpose of the ban is defeated.

                  2. There’s nothing in the story to indicate otherwise.

        2. You could start a Church of the Atom, where you worship atomic weapons, preferably with mutant preachers. Even more preferably you have a cobalt bomb with the letters alpha and omega stamped on it.

          1. Futurama did it!

        3. “And under the case law the Sikhs are probably screwed here.”

          It says here that Washington State has religious-freedom protections comparable to RFRA, which rejects the narrow Smith standard:

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/…..s-freedom/

          1. School safety would be a compelling interest for most courts, and I’m betting they’d also find it narrowly tailored.

            1. This isn’t a school case, but it does implicate similar safety concerns:

              “July 22, 2014 (New York, NY) ? A court in Queens, New York dismissed a criminal summons last week that was issued to a Sikh for carrying a kirpan. The Sikh received the criminal summons because he carried two kirpans into John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.”

              http://www.sikhcoalition.org/a…..ainst-sikh

              1. As you note, schools are often treated differently than many places, ‘sensitive places’ to the nth degree where rights are not as well respected (see cases of school speech, searches, etc).

              2. “Some states have statutes or constitutional provisions that offer more protection of individual religious liberty. These rules typically require the government to make some reasonable effort to accommodate religious practices that conflict with laws. Where that effort is required, schools have been able to reach reasonable compromises with students who want to carry a kirpan at school. In a California case, litigated in the early 1990s under a standard that required reasonable accommodation of religion, the court concluded that such a compromise was possible. The court found that the risk posed by the kirpan could be eliminated if the student was required to keep the kirpan’s blade dull and demonstrate that the kirpan was sewn tightly into its sheath so it could not be drawn.”

                http://www.pewforum.org/2009/1…..s-liberty/

                1. Without clicking on the link for the case citation I would just say I doubt that’s controlling authority most places

                  1. I didn’t say it was. But it shows that the courts are not uniformly anti-Sikh.

                    1. One would like to think US courts would be as enlightened as Canadian courts, but I wouldn’t venture to predict what all US courts would do:

                      (from Wikipedia)

                      http://tinyurl.com/ny4g6sc

      2. Smith v Employment Division

      3. Here ya go:

        (from Justicia)

        http://tinyurl.com/kmor2rx

      4. I believe it was Smith (the Peyote case).

    2. I got it: Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon vs. Smith. The peyote case. I was confusing it with the Santeria case.

    3. Sadly, the rational relationship test is such an easy one to pass I doubt that. The Court would just say there’s a rational interest in having less knives

    4. I think that the same reasoning applies to pretty much all religious freedom exceptions. Both for the equal protection reasons you describe and because everyone should have the same rights, regardless of their religion. If religious freedom is to truly exist, then if a law violates religious freedom, the law should be removed, not modified to make special exceptions for particular religions. If mandating employers to provide birth control that some consider abortifacient violates freedom of religion, then no one should be mandated to do so. If the Native American Church gets to use Peyote, then everyone gets to use peyote.
      When you start carving out specific religious exceptions, you are bound to end up with a list of religions and religious practices that are approved by the state as legitimate. And that seems to me to be pretty much the opposite of what the First Amendment is meant to do.

  2. One school volunteer named Shelby, who asked her last name not be used, said respecting religion goes too far if it compromises student safety.

    This is what happens when your ideology makes absolutely no logical sense.

    Have fun with the cognitive dissonance, fuckwads!

    1. Respecting ANY right goes too far if it compromises safety!

      If it saves even ONE life….

      *gets beaten to death because deserved to be*

      1. Not a suicide pact! For the children!

    2. respecting religion goes too far if it compromises student safety

      Well, that is true. But it would have to go a lot further than allowing the carrying of a ceremonial knife. I don’t think we’d want any Thugee practicing their religion in schools.

  3. I would absolutely want to see the idiot zero-tolerance policies eliminated, but I don’t expect the Sikhs to wait for that day before enjoying their religious freedom.

  4. If Sikh kids can bring knives, can Sith kids bring light sabers?

    1. Yes, but mind tricks would still be barred.

    2. Who’s going to stop them?

  5. It’s true that different standards apply, since Sikh students’ beliefs arguably receive special protection under the First Amendment and federal law.

    What about my protection under 2A?

    Ima start a religion that requires the faithful to carry a firearm from the age of 12.

    1. *names 10mm “Kirpan”*

  6. Alright, I’m starting my own Christian denomination. Basically, its main stream protestant, but requires people to be armed at all times and declares all taxes to be theft. Any of you lawyer types wanna tell me how to get away with it?

    1. There’s no getting past the FYTW clause.

    2. The tax part will be tricky. Unless you can convince the government to follow your religion, they aren’t going to give much of a shit whether you consider taxes theft or not.

    3. First they ask whether you’re sincere. Then they ask if suppressing your religion is the least restrictive means of achieveing a compelling govt interst.

      1. But be sure to consult an attorney before founding such a religion, so as to get professional advice re your rights.

  7. My religion requires me to carry a spring operated automatic opening knife at all times. It also forbids me from discussing any other aspects of the religion.

  8. I’m betting state worship will supersede other religions. Again.

    1. The state has been sufficiently worshipped. Permission was asked, and permission was granted.

  9. I may be mistaken, but I think one requirement was that the knife be soldered in place so that it cannot be removed from its sheath.

    Not that I’d care if it wasn’t.

  10. I find it irksome, however, that school administrators are willing to recognize a faith-based exception to zero tolerance weapons policies while vigorously enforcing them in every other respect, even when other students have equally valid reasons to carry knives.

    “Irksome” at the very least.

    It’s also irksome that “faith” garners a higher position than even “common sense”.

    1. It’s also irksome that “faith” garners a higher position than even “common sense”.

      Yeah, because common sense is so much more tangible than abject belief.

        1. If you mean purely mythical, I might almost agree.

          1. Meaning you can claim its existence but don’t need to prove it or even agree on what it is, yet require that others take the claim seriously.

  11. Can Palestinian children bring ceremonial bomb belts?

    1. Holy Hand Grenades?

  12. The Pastafarians need to establish a central sacrament to the faith the carrying of a Swiss Army knife, with corkscrew. I carried one nearly everyday through HS in the 70s and managed to not go on any bloody rampages.

    I applaud allowing the Sikh to carry his knife and condemn that he had to seek permission in the first place.

    1. I applaud allowing the Sikh to carry his knife and condemn that he had to seek permission in the first place.

      Too bad the rest of us won’t get it.

  13. BTW, it should also be noted that kirpans are pretty purely symbolic these days, and in practice are likely to be about as dangerous as a butter knife. They’re often very small, for one thing, for ease of carrying in modern society. Fears about “a TODDLER carrying a DAGGER” are way overblown.

  14. “…a faith-based exception to zero tolerance weapons policies …”

    Someone doesn’t understand what ‘zero’ means.

  15. What this shows is that school authorities know perfectly well such rules have nothing to do with safety.

  16. My religion requires I carry a .45 on my hip.

    1. Ah yes, the Church of John Moses Browning.

  17. One school volunteer named Shelby, who asked her last name not be used, said respecting religion goes too far if it compromises student safety.

    “There’s no way I’d go back until the knife was gone,” she said.

    What about all those dirty little prepubescent monsters who still have their canine teeth? If admins are serious about school safety, they’ll yank those fuckers out.

  18. Sadly, growing up in the ’80s, I don’t think there was a boy that didn’t have a pocket knife.

    Or during the ninja fad, some sort of throwing star, nunchuks, or sai.

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