GOVERNOR: Wilson recently vetoed a bill permitting Sikh schoolchildren to continue wearing the kirpan, a small dagger, a traditional and symbolic feature of their religious practice. Wilson’s action is another example of the illogic of the politics of fear. Although the Gurdwara Sahib Sikh temple in Fremont was the scene of a shooting recently, the governor’s veto cited is no evidence that a kirpan has ever been used in a threatening manner or as a weapon in schools or elsewhere. Instead, the governor flatly stated his unwillingness “to authorize the carrying of knives on school grounds” irrespective of their religious significance, even though the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, as well as the state Legislature, sided with the Sikh position that kirpans posed no threat to public order.

Ironically, Wilson’s stance would amaze authorities in Singapore. the city now thought by many to be the law and order capital of the world, after the flogging of Michael Fay, the American teen- ager who was convicted of spray painting cars.

You do not have to approve of Singapore’s criminal code or repressive politics to recognize that government officials there would be the first to curb any threats to public order and safety. Yet the authorities in Singapore, which has a large Sikh population, have no trouble in accommodating the religious commandment that Sikh practitioners-male and female wear kirpans under their clothing as part of observing the symbolic “Five K’s,” or rules governing Sikh dress and demeanor. The kirpan symbolizes the value Sikhs place on protecting the weak.

Why then would Wilson veto a bill designed to remove criminal penalties for carrying a kirpan on school grounds, if, as the bill stipulated, it would have to be carried for religious purposes only? The bill would also have granted schools the authority to have the kirpans blunted or sewn securely into sheaths to ensure student safety.

If Wilson, like many Californians, was honestly unaware of the long history of the Sikh system of religious belief and practice, his veto might be defensible.

But because he has publicly acknowledged the religious and symbolic significance of the kirpan to Sikhs, has cited no evidence of their misuse and yet has ruled against them on purely hypothetical “law and order” grounds, we are left to wonder if his veto really indicates a dangerous willingness to sacrifice the legitimate religious rights of minorities on the altar of political gain in an election year.

Article extracted from this publication >>  October 28, 1994