UK judge criticizes banning of Sikh ceremonial dagger in public places

[JURIST] Sir Mota Singh QC, Britain’s first Asian judge, said in an interview with BBC's Asian Network Monday that Sikhs [JURIST news archive] should be permitted to wear their ceremonial daggers [BBC report] to school and other public places. Sikhism requires that Sikh males wear the ceremonial dagger, known as a kirpan [Sikh Coalition backgrounder], at all times, but they are forbidden to use it as a weapon. Sir Mota, who is now retired, made his comments following several recent high-profile cases in which Sikhs have been asked to remove their kirpans, turbans, and other religious garb in the workplace or school. In October, a British employment tribunal awarded a Sikh policeman £10,000 for indirect racial and religious discrimination and harassment [Guardian report] after he was ordered to remove his turban during riot training. Also last year, a boy was forced to leave [Telegraph report] the Compton School in Barnet, north London for wearing a kirpan. His family has not yet brought a discrimination claim against the school. In 2008, the British High Court ruled in favor [Daily Mail report] of 14-year-old Sarika Singh after she was disciplined by her school for wearing a steel bangle, a symbol of Sikh faith called a Kara, breaking the school's "no jewelry" rule.

Sir Mota's comments come in the context of years of international tension over the wearing of religious dress [JURIST news archive]. In 2007, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) [official website] revised security procedures relating to headwear, after Sikhs criticized [JURIST reports] the potential for religious profiling. In 2006, the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] overturned [JURIST report] a Quebec school board's ban on carrying Sikh ceremonial daggers at school, ruling that it infringed students' religious freedom under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text]. The French Conseil d'Etat [official website] held [JURIST report] in 2006 that Sikhs have to remove their turbans to be photographed for driver's licenses as a matter of public security.

 

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