NEW YORK, NY: Hon. John A. Milano, Acting Criminal Court Judge, in the civil court of the city of New York, County of Queens dismissed the case against Partap Singh who was found in possession of a “kirpan” on the Southbound platform of the Main street subway station in Flushing, Queens County.

A summons was issued to the defendant, Partap Singh, for violating section 10133(c) of the Administrative Code of the City of New York, which makes it unlawful for any person in a public place, street or park to wear outside of his or her clothing or carry in open view any knife with an exposed or unexposed blade unless such person is actually using such knife for a lawful purpose as set forth in subdivision d of said section 10133. A violation of this section is an offence punishable by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars or by punishment not exceeding fifteen days or by both such fine and imprisonment.

When does an individual’s first amendment right to freedom of religion yield to the State’s duty to protect its citizens? This issue has been presented to the Court via the prosecution of a member of the Sikh religion for possession of an exposed knife, a violation of Section 10133 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York. The issue of first amendment rights and freedom of religion guaranteed by the Bill of Rights is even more significant this year as we approach our bicentennial constitutional celebration. In Queens County, the 1980 Census reported an Asian Indian population of 21,736 of which a small portion are Sikhs. Queens Borough President Claire Shulman in her remarks on April 28th, 1987, at Queens College, concerning a City Charter Revision Commission Hearing, stated, inter alia:

“Queens is one of the largest and most diverse counties in the nation. With a population of approximately two million people, we are larger than 17 states and 49 countries. In fact, if we were a separate municipality, we would be the sixth largest city in the country. Our people have come here from around the world and speak more than 150 different languages and dialects. Yet despite our racial,

Religious and ethnic differences, we share many of the same hopes, dreams and aspirations. We cherish common ideals of liberty and Justice”.

Summing up the elaborate argument Hon. Milano observed:

It, therefore, becomes incumbent upon this Court to effectuate a fair and rational balance between religious freedoms and the enforcement of criminal statutes designed to protect, among others, the very citizens and residents who now assert their religious right to observe certain customs and traditions inherent in their faith. Perhaps a solution to the problem can be advanced by this Court; A “symbolic kirpan” encased in a solid protective element such as plastic or Lucite would remove it from the category of knife or weapon, thereby, relieving the wearer from the liabilities inherent in section 10133 A.C. while at the same time permitting the observance of the five “K”s. Further, it is clear that the wearing of the “Kirpan” in a Sikh Gurdwara would not violate the said section.


While this Court finds that the People may maintain this action because there is no basis for dismissal as a matter of law, nevertheless, it is the considered judgment of this Court that the continuance of this prosecution would not be in the furtherance of justice and that dismissal is required as a matter of judicial discretion for the reasons heretofore stated by this Court. There exists, compelling factors and circumstances that clearly demonstrate that conviction or prosecution of the said defendant upon the said accusatory instrument could constitute or result in injustice and would serve no useful purpose.

Accordingly, this Court, sua sponte, upon consideration of the various factors delineated in CPL section 170:40 dismisses this prosecution in the matter of justice.

The case was pursued by the Sikh Cultural Society of New York.

Article extracted from this publication >>  May 29, 1987