Four Kirpan Cases Dropped: Sikh Organization Successfully Defends US Sikhs' Rights
Special from Sikh Coalition
September 29th, 2004
Prosecutors have been persuaded to drop criminal charges against Sikhs for carrying the kirpan four separate times over the past weeks. Two of the cases were initiated in Washington state. The other two were in California and Michigan. The Sikh Coalition has now successfully defended sixteen Sikhs from criminal prosecution for carrying the kirpan.
City of Bellevue v. Gagandeep Singh
On September 17, 2004, prosecutors in Bellevue, Washington decided drop criminal charges against Gagandeep Singh for carrying his kirpan. Gagandeep Singh, a taxi cab driver, was arrested and charged with assault while defending a friend who was in an altercation. Police charged him with possession of a concealed weapon when they found his kirpan during his arrest.
Gagandeep Singh contacted the Sikh Coalition in late June 2004 requesting materials for his attorney on the kirpan and its religious significance. The Coalition, through its Legal Director, worked with Gagandeep Singh's attorney to persuade local prosecutors to drop the weapons possession charge.
Throughout the week before the scheduled trial date, the prosecutor's office refused to drop the kirpan charge, requesting instead that Gagandeep Singh plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge. The day before trial, the Sikh Coalition sent a twenty page letter to the prosecutor's office citing case law supporting Gagandeep Singh's right to carry his kirpan. The next morning, the day of the scheduled trial, the prosecutor's office decided to drop the weapons possession charge against Gagandeep Singh.
State of Washington, County of Kittitas v. Gajjan Singh Bal
Gajjan Singh, a truck driver, arrived at a weighing station in Washington state on Friday, April 23, 2004. A police officer reviewed his log book and determined that Gajjan Singh had not had the requisite amount of sleep mandated for truck drivers. The officer instructed Gajjan Singh to go to a nearby rest stop to sleep.
When Gajjan Singh arrived at the rest stop, he asked a police officer the location of the restroom. According to Gajjan Singh, the police officer who told him the location of the restroom also entered the restroom. Gajjan Singh believes that while he was in the restroom, the police officer saw his kirpan. Five minutes later, after he had left the restroom, a group of police officers surrounded him and arrested him for carrying the kirpan.
Gajjan Singh tried his best to explain that his kirpan is an article of the Sikh faith. The officers, however, took him to jail on Friday night, April 23, 2004. Because a judge was not available for an arraignment, he spent the weekend in jail. When he appeared in court on Monday, April 26, 2004, the court determined that he would need a translator in order to understand the proceedings. His arraignment was therefore delayed until Tuesday April 27, 2004. As a result, Mr. Bal spend 4 nights in jail.
Gajjan Singh requested the Sikh Coalition's assistance. Through its Legal Director, the Sikh Coalition sent the prosecutor's office for Kittitas County a letter explaining the significance of the kirpan and legal precedent supporting Gajjan Singh's right to carry it. The Coalition's Legal Director also spoke with Gajjan Singh's public defender by telephone and with the prosecutor's office. As a result of these efforts, the criminal charges against Gajjan Singh for wearing his kirpan were dropped by the prosecutor's office on July 28, 2004.
State of California v. Kamaldeep Singh
On July 28, 2004, Kamaldeep Singh, a student at Diablo Valley College, in Pleasant Hill, California, was detained, handcuffed, fingerprinted, and photographed after a campus police officer saw his kirpan while he was studying in a campus cafeteria.
The detective who arrested Kamaldeep Singh demanded proof from him that Sikhs should not be criminally charged for carry a kirpan. Kamaldeep Singh's fiancé wrote to the Sikh Coalition the next day requesting its assistance. The Sikh Coalition, through its Legal Director, wrote a letter to the detective explaining the religious significance of the kirpan and citing past incidents where criminal charges against Sikhs for carrying the kirpan were not pursued by prosecutors.
After speaking by telephone with the Sikh Coalition's Legal Director, the detective shared its letter with a county prosecutor. The next week, a county prosecutor informed Kamaldeep Singh that criminal charges against him for carrying the kirpan would be dropped.
State of Michigan v. Bhagwant Singh
On August 15, 2004, Bhagwant Singh arrived at Detroit Metro Airport in Detroit, Michigan to pick up his father. An police officer asked Mr. Singh to pull over to the side because his car was parked in front of the airport arrival area.
The officer noticed that Bhagwant Singh was wearing his kirpan. The officer immediately told Bhagwant Singh to step out of car. The officer then took Bhagwant Singh kirpan, searched him and told him he was under arrest. He was then placed in a patrol car and taken to the Airport Police Department.
Family members of Mr. Bhagwant Singh contacted the Sikh Coalition the night he was arrested. In addition, family members contacted, United Sikhs, World Sikh Council, Windsor and Detroit-Madison Heights Gurdwara committee members to request their assistance.
The Sikh Coalition prepared a twenty page letter that night explaining the significance of the kirpan and citing past cases where similar charges had been dismissed. The Coalition sent the letter to local community members and to Harpreet Singh of United Sikhs, who lives in Michigan. The next morning, after receiving the Sikh Coalition's letter and meeting with Harpreet Singh and Kuldip Singh, Chairman of the World Sikh Council, the Wayne County Prosecutor's office decided to drop the criminal charges against Bhagwant Singh.
All Sikhs are urged to practice their faith fearlessly. If someone tells you to remove your articles of faith, please report the incident online at www.sikhcoalition.org/ListReports.asp.