Kirpan have presented problems for American schoolchildren.

While it has never been a threat in Britain or Canada - despite Sikh populations over one million in those countries - and never been involved in an incident on school grounds in the U.S., the Livingston Union School District of Merced County, California refused to allow them in schools and suspended the children found wearing them, saying "These kirpans are daggers, with steel blades. In the wrong hands, they could be very dangerous."

Actually, a dagger is a knife that is sharp on both sides of the blade and intended for bodily harm. A kirpan, on the other hand, has blunted sides and is not meant to injure another person. San Francisco attorney Stephen Bomse demonstrated the kirpan in court, showing that its blade is short (three to four inches in length), it is sewn into its sheath, and it is so blunt it would require considerable effort to even pierce the skin. Bomse compared the kirpan to the Jewish yarmulke, saying it was a religious symbol rather than a weapon. He also pointed out that scissors are used in art classes and baseball bats are used in P.E., but these are never questioned because they are not intended to harm.

Yuba City, also in California, permits Sikh children to carry kirpan if the tip is blunted and enclosed, and the knife is riveted to its sheath. In September 1994, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Merced County decision as unconstitutional because it interfered with the students' freedom of religion. The Livingston Union district adopted a policy similar to that used in Yuba City.

Source: Multicultural Manners: New Rules of Etiquette for a Changing Society, by Norine Dresser. Published by John Wiley and Sons, 1996.

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