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Sikhs Play Down School Knife Fears


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Queensland parents should not be concerned by the prospect of Sikh students carrying ornamental swords to school, one religious leader says.

The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission has raised concerns over planned changes to weapons laws which will explicitly forbid school students from carrying knives for religious reasons.

Although baptised Sikhs will be allowed to carry a small kirpan, a traditional blunted sword, in public places under a religious exception to the weapons laws, the allowance does not extend to schools.

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Sikh Council of Australia president Ajmer Singh Gill said the kirpan, worn underneath the clothing, was symbolic and did not necessarily have sharp edges.

“It is not a dagger; it is not a weapon and it is worn by all baptised Sikhs,” he said.

The head of the New South Wales-based organisation said it was rare but possible for school children to be mature enough to be ordained and to wear a kirpan.

“Parents should have no worries and fears,” he said.

“The numbers are so small and if they're not mature they [would not] be ordained.

“I believe it is irrational fear on the part of the government because no incidents [involving kirpans] have occurred anywhere in Australia that I'm aware of.”

Ranjit Singh, president of the Brisbane Sikh Temple at Eight Mile Plains, said it was more typical for someone in their late teens or early university years to fulfil the requirements to wear the kirpan.

He said his community had been working very closely with the police service and the state government on the weapons act issues.

Mr Singh, whose temple has between 1500 and 3000 registered families, said he was pleased with the wording allowing kirpans to be carried in public places.

“But in regard to the schools, I think it needs further discussion,” he said.

Mr Singh said the kirpan, when described as a dagger, sounded like a “very offensive type of weapon”, but it was a basic article of faith for Sikhs and represented “mercy and honour”.

“In most cases the person is a very responsible person; I believe most of the people who wear the kirpan fully understand the religious significance of it,” he said.

“For it to be brandished around, I'd be very surprised – that's not a situation that would occur.

“It's not a scenario where little kids would be running around with them.”

Mr Singh said he fully appreciated and understood that children's safety was very important.

Police Minister Neil Roberts last night stood by the ban on kirpans in schools.

“The bill I introduced into the Parliament recently amends the Weapons Act to clarify that a person may physically possess a knife in a public place for a genuine religious purpose,” he said.

“The example used in the bill is the Sikh religion, which requires baptised members to carry a small blunted knife – known as a kirpan – that is worn underneath the person's clothing.

“However, this amendment will not extend to the physical possession of a knife in a school.

“The safety and welfare of our children is paramount and therefore the Bill excludes the possession of any type of knife on school grounds.”

Opposition police spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said his instinct was to support the minister's position on this issue.

Civil libertarian Terry O'Gorman said the matter was one of religious rights versus public safety.

“If there is to be a tension or a contest between the religious rights of Sikhs, particularly in a school as opposed to a religious environment, and the law of the land dealing with public safety issues, the law of the land should take precedence,” he said.

In a submission tabled in Parliament yesterday, Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Kevin Cocks argued the government had provided no evidence any school attacks had involved a kirpan or other religious knife.

“This [bill] has the effect of discriminating against students, teachers, contractors and members of the school community who are of a religion that requires the carrying a knife, such as the Sikh religion,” Mr Cocks said.

“It means that people of the Sikh religion cannot be teachers, or perform other work, or attend schools in Queensland, unless they compromise their religion.”

The Scrutiny of Legislation Committee invited the minister to provide more information on whether the wording of the bill “would have sufficient regard to rights of individuals to freedom of belief and religion”.

According to explanatory notes accompanying the proposed bill, Education Queensland policies already ban students from bringing knives or weapons to school.


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