Civil Liberties

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


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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.