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Kirpan barred, so Sikh group to skip meeting with Pope

A Sikh organisation in the US will skip a scheduled meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in Washington, DC, next month because its representatives have been been asked not to carry kirpans to the event.

The World Sikh Council - America Region (WSC-AR) decided against attending the April 17 inter-religious meeting with the visiting pope because the US Secret Service refused to allow the kirpan, the ceremonial dagger that is one of the five articles of faith for Sikhs.

"We have to respect the sanctity of the kirpan, especially at such inter-religious gatherings. We cannot undermine the rights and freedoms of religion in the name of security," said Anahat Kaur, secretary general of the WSC-AR, in a press release Friday.

She pointed out that Sikhs wearing their kirpans had met Pope John Paul II in the Vatican.

Disappointed with the US agency responsible for security of visiting leaders, WSC-AR has called upon it to respect the religious rights and freedoms of the Sikh community.

In 2004, the then chairperson of WSC-AR, Kuldeep Singh, was also forced to decline an invitation to the White House on the kirpan issue. The National Council of Churches in the US had supported the position taken by WSC-AR.

The WSC-AR continues to be concerned that at events held by Sikh organisations at the White House and Capitol Hill, Sikhs are still refused the right to wear their kirpans.

WSC-AR had expressed solidarity with the Sikh Federation (UK) when its representatives refused to enter the European Union parliament in Brussels in May 2006 when asked to first remove their kirpans.

The WSC-AR is a representative and elected body of about 45 gurdwaras and other Sikh institutions in the US and takes up Sikh issues at the national and international levels.

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