Kirpan Case at Harvard Indicates Need for School Policies

August 11, 2006

Source: The Harvard Crimson

On August 11, 2006 The Harvard Crimson reported, "A Sikh student at the Harvard Summer School who carries a kirpan�a sword worn sheathed and under clothing by baptized Sikhs as an article of faith�had his kirpan taken away from him in mid-July by Harvard administrators, though pressure from a Sikh advocacy group caused Harvard to return the kirpan soon afterwards.

Administrators first contacted the student, Navdeep Singh Johal, on July 6 and asked him to provide information about his kirpan. Johal contacted the Sikh Coalition, a group started by former Harvard Divinity School student Harpreet Singh in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in order to educate Americans about the religion and stem the rising tide of hate crimes against Sikhs.

Amardeep Singh Bhalla, the Coalition’s legal director, provided Harvard with a 28 page document outlining the religious meaning of the kirpan and legal precedents permitting Sikhs to carry the kirpan, including cases in Detroit, New York, Dayton, Ohio and Los Angeles.

On July 12, Johal was asked to meet with Dean of the Summer School Robert Lue and with William Holinger, the director of the Summer School’s Secondary School Program. They asked Johal not to wear his kirpan while they researched and considered 'safety issues,' Johal said.

'I was really upset,' Johal said. 'I always wear [the kirpan] all the time and I never take it off. I’ve been wearing it since I was baptized in sixth grade.'

The kirpan is worn by Sikhs as a symbolic commitment to protect the weak and ensure peace and security... A spokeswoman for the Division of Continuing Education, Linda A. Cross, confirmed that after administrators conferred with a University attorney, the Office of the General Counsel authorized the Summer School to allow Johal to carry his kirpan. 'Everything happened very rapid-fire, very quickly and I think it really helped that Harvard is so sensitive and especially the Pluralism Project,' [said Amardeep Singh Bhalla, the Sikh Coalition’s legal director]."