Religious Freedom Gone Too Far? District Says Elementary Schooler Can Carry Knife To School Daily

Kevin Bostic

One Washington school district's move toward multicultural tolerance is drawing heavy criticism after it ruled that an elementary school boy will be able to carry a dagger to school daily due to religious tradition.

The Auburn School District in Washington State has had a considerable conundrum on their hands. The District has had to decide whether to put potential student safety above the religious freedom of one student, and the decision came down in favor of the latter.

The case involves a young boy that goes to Auburn's Gildo Rey Elementary. The boy, who is unnamed in KING5's report on the matter, is a member of the Sikh religion, and his family came to the school to tell administrators that he would be carrying a Kirpan, a traditional Sikh dagger.

Why should an elementary school-aged child need to carry a dagger with him daily? For the Sikh, the Kirpan is an essentially sacred object. The Sikh faith requires that all baptized Sikhs wear five articles of faith at all times, and the Kirpan is one of those articles.

The dagger is considered an instrument of social justice, and the parents of the child assured administrators that it is not a tool of violence. The Kirpan's name, in fact, comes from two words: "kirpa," meaning "mercy, grace, compassion, kindness," and "aan," meaning "honor, grace, dignity."

"For the people who are formally initiated to the Kirpan, it's very near and dear," a spokesperson for the Gurudwara Sikh Center for Seattle told KING5.

That's not enough assurance for some, though.

"There's no way I'd go back until the knife was gone," one school volunteer said. "They can't take that thing into the airport. TSA would be all over it. Why is a school any different."

The Kirpan, critics argue, is a blatant violation of Washington State's "zero tolerance" weapons policy, whether or not it is a religious necessity.

Still, district administrators saw the Kirpan falling under state and federal exceptions to the policy, and they have set out rules to make sure the dagger is not an issue when the child comes to school.

The boy cannot, for instance, show others the knife or even bring it out from under his clothing. The Kirpan must stay under his clothes at all times, according to Ryan Foster, Auburn Assistant Superintendent for Schools.

"That allows them to express their religion without jeopardizing anyone's feeling of safety," Foster said. "If there are any problems, we will take it to the family, but we don't expect any."

Foster is optimistic because of another fact regarding the Kirpan: numerous other Sikhs, both students and staff, have worn their Kirpans to Auburn schools for years now. So far there have been no incidents.

That's not stopping some critics from criticizing the decision, though. The Tea Party News Network complained that students face suspension or reprimand for wearing t-shirts in support of the Second Amendment, while others have been punished for chewing their pop tarts into the shape of a gun.

[Lead image via NYDailyNews.]