Detroit Kirpan Controversy Highlights Tensions Between City Ordinances and Religious Freedoms

December 12, 2005

Source: The Detroit News

On December 12, 2005 The Detroit News reported, "The arrest of a Wayne State University student has sparked conflict between upholding the city's knife ordinance and protecting religious freedoms. Senior Sukhpreet Singh Garcha, 23, was arrested on campus in August on suspicion of carrying a 10-inch knife on his hip and was charged with violating a city ordinance, which prohibits carrying knives with blades longer than 3 inches. Garcha, a practicing Sikh, said the knife was part of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion founded in India. The charge was later dropped, but the American Civil Liberties Union and the United Sikhs organization have rallied around the student, claiming the arrest violated Garcha's religious rights. His lawyers have asked 36th District Court Judge Rudy Serra to clarify the city's knife ordinance. He is expected to issue an opinion as soon as today that will likely exempt kirpans from the city's knife ordinance. 'I don't believe the ordinance was intended to be applied to cases like this,' Serra said... In the meantime, Wayne State University and Garcha's lawyers are trying to work out a compromise, especially after Garcha was arrested again Dec. 6 for wearing the kirpan. Criminal charges were not pressed, and Garcha was released... Wayne State's Public Safety Director Anthony Holt said the university is exploring ways to honor Garcha's beliefs as well as ensure the safety of the community. The department had never encountered a case like this before, he said. Holt said Garcha will no longer be stopped or arrested for carrying the kirpan."