In the name of Freedom Of Religion…

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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56 Responses

  1. david says:

    That isn’t unusual, a ceremonial kirpan the size of a pair of scissors is hard to ban on grounds of safety of the school tolerates actual scissors on campus. This is all the more so if the local Sikh community accepts additional restrictions, like blunting the kirpan or using adhesives to seal it within the scabbard, although that varies from place to place.

    Sikhs also generally receive allowances with regards to safety helmets. I think the ‘model minority’ status of the Sikh migrant community tends to help.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Like a knife will do much good when the school board okays what the Palestinians will be asking for…Report

  3. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Back in my day, I carried a pocket knife to school all the time (a 3″ folder). No one batted an eye. I still carry such a knife, all the time, unless I am going through a checkpoint.

    I’ve never understood the over-reaction to pocket knives. And I have great respect for the Sikh tradition of being prepared.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      And a volunteer who would refuse to volunteer at a school while a kid carries a ceremonial knife – If that person is honestly that afraid, I seriously have to wonder how they manage to go out in public every day.Report

    • When my oldest son was in (I think?) the second grade, he brought a junior detective kit his aunt gave him for his birthday for his show and tell assignment. One of the items in the kit was a plastic pair of costume handcuffs that had no locking mechanism.

      He was suspended for the rest of the day as well as the following day for brining them to school.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Wait, what? How do handcuffs – not even a (fake) weapon – violate zero-tolerance policies?Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        They were in fact considered a weapon by the school.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Well that’s just silly.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        That’s not silly, that’s Portlandia.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        That’s an argument for school choice is what that is.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        The zero tolerance is silly, the lack of understanding of the context for him bringing them, etc. are silly. The notion of considering (real) handcuffs a weapon, especially in a school, isn’t remotely silly IMO.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        If you would like to send your child to a school with no handcuffs, press 1. If you would like to send your child to a school that allows plastic handcuffs, press 3. If you would like your child to go to a school where he or she is can explore the full potential of a deviant sexual relationship, press three. Or press # to here these options again.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Zero tolerance makes things too easy for school officials and leads to some spectacularly dumb results. Suspending a kid for bringing in plastic handcuffs for show and tell is so idiotic that it can’t be defended.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @michael-drew – what can you do with real handcuffs, that you couldn’t do with a bike chain and the lock for your locker? I don’t really agree with zero-tolerance stuff as a rule, but I totally understand if they treat letter-openers the same as knives, since both are plenty stabby.

        But handcuffs aren’t really useful as an offensive weapon, unless you count using them as hand weapons (in which case, a lock or a rock serves just as well) or as tools of confinement (which a bike chain/lock can accomplish just as well; or, they can just stick with the classics, and stuff you into a janitor’s closet somewhere).

        How about zipties? Same as handcuffs?Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        What if it was a school district wide policy? School choice doesn’t matter if the district sets the rules unless you are willing and able to make you child travel long distances to find a school district whose rules you like.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        I would have no idea how to quickly lock someone to a radiator with a chain so they couldn’t pull her arm or leg out of the chain. I think I could figure it out with handcuffs.

        There are clearly reasons for kids to have rocks at school, but I would not have a problem banning them from having heavy (but throwable – or not throwable, for that matter) jagged rocks in their lockers over a period of time apart from school projects. At some point, the clear need for certain potentially harmful-if-used-as-a-weapon objects, like padlocks, overtakes safety concerns but that’s not an argument against banning objects for which that’s not the case.

        Btw, if a school was concerned about bike chains and locks and said they could only be kept outside locked to a bike, I’d have no problem with that, provided there was reasonableness built into how the school enforced its rules (i.e. no zero tolerance). But there really is no reason in general (again, zero tolerance sucks precisely because it disallows for schools to make reasonable exceptions like for show-and-tell) for kids to have handcuffs in school on a regular basis. If I found out that a school had considered the idea of disallowing kids from having handcuffs in school on a regular basis and decided against disallowing it (if they just hadn’t considered it (yet), that’s fine), I would consider that a strike against their judgement.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Good point, Saul. Perhaps an argument for full-on private school vouchers, then.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Heh… last year a 5-year-old wanted to bring her bow-and-arrow to school for show-and-tell. Her mom — a former teacher — reached out to me to ask if this was acceptable. I said, “Sure, why the hell not?” Putting restrictions on show-and-tell is goddamn unAmerican.

        More importantly, no one found out!Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        Keep in mind the cuffs Tod mentioned had no locking mechanism.

        They were about as dangerous as a pair of plastic bracelets.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Kazzy – I assume you mean “within reason” when it comes to your “no restrictions on show-and-tell” policy. I mean, you wouldn’t let a kid bring his dad’s hunting rifle, would you?Report

    • Kim in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      purely psychological. knives make great psychological weapons.Report

  4. LeeEsq says:

    I understand the requirements that Sikh men were beards also caused some consertations in American high school administrators. Most high school dress codes require or at least required boys to be clean-shaving. This caused some problems with Sikh students.Report

  5. Burt Likko says:

    The school is supposed to accommodate students’ religion to the extent that doing so is possible. If it is possible to tailor a rule to allow ceremonial knives, the school should of course do so. We’re not talking about machetes or katanas here.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

      True. It’s not like it’s a scary butter knife or anything.

      I actually have no problem with this, and think that the “wait and see” approach is particularly prudent. If it creates a more systemic problem, then you have to re-evaluate the policy. But until or unless that happens, bend where you can bend.Report

  6. Kazzy says:

    Well, the best way to stop bad guys with knives…Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy says:

      Is a good guy with a sword!Report

      • Kim in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        … is a Mad Rocket Scientist with a maser.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Oooooh, a Maser!Report

      • As the resident fencer… carrying a sword is illegal in many (most?) jurisdictions. Pick a state and there are likely to be restrictions, at least in some of the cities, that forbid carrying a weapon with a fixed blade longer than X inches, where X is a small number. TTBOMK, the SCOTUS has never decided the issue of whether swords are “arms” protected under the Second Amendment. That would seem an open-and-shut case if someone with deep pockets decided to pursue it — swords can be carried as a self-defense weapon by an individual and, for a substantial chunk of the country’s history, the military regarded them as arms. The Navy issued cutlasses during the Revolutionary War, and the Union Army issued cavalry sabers at least through the Indian Wars following the Civil War.

        Whether a sword or a handgun is better seems immaterial, at least to me. You can make pro and con arguments either way.Report

      • scott the mediocre in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Former fencer here (Caltech, which I am astonished to learn is now NCAA division I in fencing; it certainly wasn’t when I was on the team, and I didn’t pull the average skill level down that much), and owner of a couple of swords which have real weapon potential (post-WW2 nihont?: not quite shinsakut?, which are post-1953 weapons made with traditional processes and materials; mine were made with the aid of modern alloys, power tools, forced air furnace, etc., so ritually impure 🙂 but a lot cheaper). They are legal for open carry according to CA state law, but not for example in LA County or many of the larger cities (the standard length limit is 3″ blade; I think it’s 2.5″ in some places). However, I have yet to find any good reason to open carry them other than in the process of transporting between car and private property (where I have the consent of the owner). Strictly speaking, since they are covered by their tied-shut swordbags

        AFAIK nobody has tried to make a 2nd Amendment case regarding knives/swords; I have no idea if there is case law from back when swords or sword-like weapons were still in relatively common use that held that swords were not “arms” for 2nd Amendment purposes. MRS, do you know?

      • @scott-the-mediocre
        I should have fenced more in college. But it was barely a club sport, and I had two majors and a minor… Anyway, it’s amazing what can be done with a weapon with only a point and no sharpened edge. There is a reason that the rapier and its descendents were the urban self-defense weapon of choice for hundreds of years in Europe. Two anecdotes:

        One year at Halloween a coach brought in a good-sized pumpkin and an epee with the electric tip assembly removed and the threads ground down to a fine point. A pumpkin resists penetration more than a human (unless you hit a bone dead on). He balanced the pumpkin on a four-foot-tall step ladder and let everyone make a couple of passes at it with the sharpened epee, using proper form, with the goal of maximum penetration without knocking the pumpkin off the ladder. It’s almost casually easy to get six-to-eight inches of penetration.

        In a freak accident at an open fencing session a few years ago, an epee blade broke while one of my club-mates was attempting to hit his opponent’s foot. Because of the angles involved, he hit his opponent’s calf with the jagged end as he completed the lunge. The blade passed entirely through the muscle, pretty much at its widest point. The guy who had done the damage said later that there was basically no resistance — he didn’t realize he’d even hit the guy’s leg.Report

      • One must -never- underestimate those weapons, even in their blunted and domesticated forms.

        We are talking about pretty much the evolutionary pinnacle of western melee fighting weapons. People laughed at these graceful narrow little blades before. A lot of ‘em drowned to death on their own blood next to their yard long broadswords while the fencers had some tea.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I fenced in high school and college. Its a fun but dangerous sport. Quite elegant if you do it right. Its main problem is that the one fencing-sport movie, By the Sword, sucks real bad because they have to bring in some very dumb stuff about duels for the love of a woman. That doesn’t really work in a present day setting.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I took a fencing class in college, and at one point my blade slipped up under my opponent’s mask and hit her in the throat. It’s all too easy to imagine what could have happened if in going under her mask the button on the tip had caught and pulled off.Report

      • @leeesq
        Yeah, every beginner’s class taught by my club opens with, “This is an inherently dangerous activity. Let’s start with some absolute rules about how you behave that make it safe…” Statistically, it’s very safe; the episode with the perforated calf that I described really was a freak thing. In a lot of ways, it’s the ultimate insider sport: if you’re not a fencer, you don’t know what you’re seeing, even in slow motion. A friend of mine who is an ethnographer says that you can tell a lot about any activity by studying what kinds of jokes are told about it. I spent an afternoon once searching online for fencing jokes. Every single one of them was an “insider” joke that only a fencer might think was funny.Report

      • @james-hanley
        I know roughly how old you are; there have been meaningful changes in the rules for masks and jackets since then to make it much more difficult to get a tip up inside a mask. OTOH, there are still colleges and rec centers that allow people to fence in just sweats, which is dangerously stupid. The US Fencing Association requires all fencers to wear approved jackets and plastrons at all approved activities (tournaments, practice, class, whatever).

        It’s an ongoing process. Some years back, at the urging of the IOC, the fencing authorities allowed masks with transparent visors (for reasons unknown, the IOC thought that being able to sometimes see the fencers’ eyes made for more compelling television). That rule change was reversed a bit over three years ago after it was discovered that some Chinese suppliers were forging manufacturers’ markings in order to substitute cheaper substandard plastic material for the visor (it’s not clear where in the Chinese supply chain the forgery was occurring).Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        That’s good to hear, and I’m not really surprised. I really enjoyed the fencing, and wish I’d had opportunity to follow it up. Maybe I should look for a seniors’ beginners league.Report

      • Here’s a list with contact information for the USFA-sanctioned clubs in Michigan. Club operators usually know about other groups in their area that may be too small to bother with getting sanctioned. I found picking the sport back up after 30 years off to be more frustrating than I anticipated. Intellectually I knew what was supposed to happen, but the reflexes were gone. So was a bunch of the overall physical capability: I’m simply not as strong as I used to be and don’t see as well. Carrying an extra 25 pounds around doesn’t help, either :^) OTOH, I’m more patient and I seem to pick up on patterns in my opponents better, both important for epee.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        It’s almost casually easy to get six-to-eight inches of penetration.

        Enough bragging.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        AFAIK, questions regarding swords/long knives in public is not something the SCOTUS has ever addressed. I suppose it technically falls under the category of arms, but I can’t find any reference to a case that specifically addresses the question.

        In my experience, except in a few select cities/states, while there are usually rules regarding blade length for carried knives/swords, they are largely unenforced unless connected to a crime (e.g. a guy menacing a person(s) with a machete may have an included indictment of violating the blade length statute). Basically if the blade is in it’s scabbard, and you aren’t doing something that would concern the police, no one will pester you.Report

      • scott the mediocre in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Basically if the blade is in it’s scabbard, and you aren’t doing something that would concern the police, no one will pester you.

        Has not been my experience. The police and sheriff’s deputies seem to find my mere possession of the two scabbarded swords (standard katana and wakizashi; as noted above, modern replicas but very much with edges and point) concerning enough to stop me on multiple occasions when I was just walking, though once they get close enough to stop me and see that both swords are peaceknotted it helps, but on two occasions I have been told that while they agree that it is not illegal, they would really rather I not do that. I would rather carry them (the swords, not the police) in their swordbags, but I greatly fear being hit with a concealed weapon charge. I know some martial artists use locking cases, and I imagine that the combination of martial arts attire and the locked case might help, especially in an area, e.g. a city, where the weapon is otherwise prohibited.

      • scott the mediocre in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        OTOH, there are still colleges and rec centers that allow people to fence in just sweats, which is dangerously stupid.

        WTF?? Do they also encourage people to bring loaded firearms? Tod Kelly, you have some potential new risk management clients. James, please do not go to any of those places.

        OTOH, there are still colleges and rec centers that allow people to fence in just sweats, which is dangerously stupid.

        Some years back, at the urging of the IOC, the fencing authorities allowed masks with transparent visors

        Besides, part of the training for looking for your opponent to telegraph is learning to read eyes through the mesh. Get off my lawn!

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Yeah, police in cities tend to be a bit more disconcerted by bladed implements. Police are also pretty good at making up BS laws based upon whatever irks them (e.g. the recent rash of stories of cops deciding the public can’t film them). So, it’s usually not illegal except in certain cities (NYC comes to mind), and unlikely to result in a concealed weapons charge (an openly carried sword in a scabbard is equivalent to a holstered or slung firearm; i.e. decidedly NOT concealed, but also decidedly not threatening anyone except for people who are obviously too sensitive to function in society).Report

      • In a casual conversation on the topic with a police officer at a party, his take was that carrying what is obviously a sword, scabbarded or not, is confrontational, so the police don’t like it. He opposed open carry of firearms for the same reason (excluding obvious things like hunting in an appropriate place). And crossbows, IIRC.

        Actual concealed carry of a sword — the equivalent of a small-of-the-back holster under a jacket for a handgun — is a bit of challenge :^)Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        There are a lot of things the police don’t like & consider ‘confrontational’.

        Holstered firearms, sheathed swords, furtive movements…Report

      • @mad-rocket-scientist

        Being black, NOT being a cop…Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Being too calm, being nervous…

        We can do this all dayReport

  7. Kazzy says:

    I had a friend in middle and high school who carried just such an item on him. I don’t remember what the rules were at the time (I was in high school when Columbine happened, so my hunch is that there was a major shift somewhere along the line) and I don’t know if he was exempted from whatever rules did exist or if he simply did what he had to do to make it work, but I know he had it on him. He was not the only Sikh male in our school, but was the only one I was close enough to know for a fact that he had it.

    My school was also very progressive and generally ahead of the curve with such matters, so it wouldn’t shock me if he had the requisite permission.Report

  8. Stillwater says:

    Given that this is an interesting challenge to the sacred/profane principle argued by Murali earlier, I wonder what he has to say about this…

    One thing that seems clear to me is that religious exceptions to otherwise applicable law are gonna go viral.Report

    • Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

      Calling my name summons me.. Bwahahahahah! Anyway…

      Even though I, in general prefer an unarmed populace, I have little objection to the kirpans that Sikhs are required by their religion to carry. I’m not sure how this challenges anything I said in my other post.Report

  9. KatherineMW says:

    Canada has had this for a while:

    Kirpans have been specifically allowed in schools by the Supreme Court of Canada. In Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys, 31 the Supreme Court overturned a school board’s prohibition on kirpans as part of the board’s broader policy on weapons, holding that such a prohibition infringed the student’s freedom of religion in a way that could not be justified under section 1 of the Charter. Although the prohibition was motivated by the objective of ensuring a reasonable level of safety at school, the court held that options were available that would have less impact on the student’s freedom of religion, such as allowing the student to wear the kirpan under restrictions that would have ensured that it was carefully sealed within his clothing. The court noted that there was no evidence of violent incidents related to kirpans in schools across Canada, and other objects such as scissors and baseball bats could be much more easily obtained by any student with violent intentions.

    Despite some evidence of resistance among the Quebec public,32 this case nonetheless seemed to reflect the reality of compromise with respect to kirpans that already existed in school boards across Canada. Courts in British Columbia and Ontario had already specifically upheld similar policies.33 Using similar reasoning, the British Columbia Court of Appeal also upheld the right to wear a kirpan in a hospital in British Columbia (Worker’s Compensation Board) v. British Columbia (Council of Human Rights)34 under (then) section 3 of the British Columbia Human Rights Code35 prohibiting discrimination in the provision of accommodation and services.

    As a matter of policy, Sikh members of Parliament are entitled to wear the kirpan to the Canadian House of Commons, and visitors may wear the kirpan in the public gallery. However, in this respect, Quebec legislators have, in the past, adopted a different approach to their federal counterparts. In early 2011, a Sikh delegation seeking to testify on Quebec’s reasonable accommodation bill was denied entry to the National Assembly when its members refused to remove their kirpans.

    Nevertheless, where safety is of real concern, it is clear that kirpans are prohibited despite provincial or federal laws protecting freedom of religion. For example, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has held that prohibiting kirpans during air travel is legitimate for the protection of passengers and staff. 36 Similarly, in order to protect personal security, public order and the administration of justice, the Manitoba Court of Appeal upheld the right of a judge to bar kirpans from the courtroom in R. v. Hothi et al. 37 While the court acknowledged that the kirpan was a religious symbol and not a weapon, it based its decision on the authority of a judge to maintain control of his or her courtroom. This authority has traditionally encompassed the right to ensure that there are no weapons whatsoever in the courtroom, as the presence of a weapon could thwart the process of justice by being perceived as an adverse influence. Nevertheless, individuals involved in the Multani case were permitted to wear the kirpan during the hearing before the Supreme Court.

    My gut reactions is that invoking freedom of religion to allow weapons in places where weapons are not otherwise permitted is taking “reasonable accommodation” rather too far. I would prefer Sikh people in places where weapons are disallowing being allowed to carry something that looks like a kirpan but is very blunt and doesn’t function as a knife. Even if 100% of the people carrying the knives would never use them against another person, there’s still the possibility of someone else taking the knife away from them and using it violently.

    However, I am not aware of a single case, since the 2006 Supreme Court ruling, where such accommodation has resulted in the kirpan being used for violence, so I don’t have an evidentiary basis for my gut-level sense that the law unduly privileges religious freedom over safety. Going by Canada’s experience, Washington students will not be any less safe because of this law.Report