New York school allows kirpan

New York, USA -- A New York school district has lifted the suspension on a Sikh teenager for carrying a kirpan – a ceremonial knife mandated by his religion to be carried on his person.

Leaders in the Central 7 school district in Greenburgh cleared the suspension record of Amandeep Singh, 15, of Hartsdale and agreed to let him wear a smaller version of the sacred symbol, the Journal News reported last week.

The ninth-grade honours student had been wearing the kirpan since he was baptised at age eight.

On February 4, he was suspended from Woodlands High School for eight days and charged with carrying a weapon.

"We had to balance the student's First Amendment rights along with the safety of all of our students in the district," said schools Superintendent Josephine Moffett, explaining that weapons of all kinds are forbidden at school.

According to Singh's brother, Kamaldeep Singh, a 22-year-old financial analyst for Morgan Stanley, the kirpan was three inches long and only "as sharp as a butter knife".

Singh's family reportedly demonstrated to school officials that several other classroom items including a steel ruler and a compass were sharper and more lethal than the kirpan.

"He never had any disciplinary problems. Teachers loved him. They knew about the kirpan," Kamaldeep Singh told the New York daily

"It's ironic, because it is a place of education, but if the school was educated about this, this would never have happened, because they saw it as a weapon, and we view it as an article of faith comparable to a yarmulke or a cross."

Kamaldeep Singh said his family is indebted to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, which sent lawyers to negotiate an agreement between the family and school.

"What we have here is evidence of religious discrimination," Jared Leland, media and legal counsel for Becket, told the Journal News .

"He was really being forced to choose between attending a public school and practicing his faith, and that's something that the First Amendment does not tolerate."

Both Leland and Singh's family praised school officials for being amenable to working out an agreement and dropping the charges.

"I want to respect his religion – that's absolutely necessary," said Moffett.

Under the agreement, the kirpan "would be securely fastened into a cloth pouch... worn under Amandeep's clothing so that it would not be visible".

In 1997, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Livingston Union School District in California school reached a settlement that guaranteed the right of baptised Sikh students to attend school wearing a kirpan, the Journal News said.

It came after three children missed a semester because they were not allowed to.

According to the ACLU, there has never been an incident of kirpan-related violence in school in the United States or Canada, where the nation's Supreme Court is reportedly hearing a challenge similar to the one in California.