San Francisco – The Livingston Union School District and the ACLU of Northern California announced today that they have resolved a lawsuit concerning the rights of baptized Sikh students to wear symbolic ceremonial knives – known as kirpans – to school.
The parties described the settlement – which will allow the students to wear the kirpans subject to strict limitations on size and other restrictions designed to assure that they cannot be misused – as an agreement intended to promote the two important goals of religious freedom and school security.
Stephen V. Bomse of Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe, a cooperating attorney for the ACLU, who, with ACLU staff attorney Margaret Crosby, represented the plaintiffs, said: "This is an important achievement for religious liberty, but it is an achievement that does not come at the cost of safety in our schools."
Henry Escobar, Superintendent of the Livingston Union School District, said: "We are pleased to have reached a resolution among all parties. Our primary concern at all times has been the safety issues. We have always been and continue to be respectful of the Sikhs' religious beliefs. We are happy we have been able to accommodate their religious needs without jeopardizing the safety of our students, faculty or staff."
The Cheema children have been attending school with their Kirpans pursuant to an order by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in September 1994. The court's order allowed the children to wear their kirpans to school pending a full trial on the School District's claim that kirpans pose an unacceptable danger to school safety.
Settlement was reached when the parties were able to agree upon terms that, they believe, adequately insure student safety without compromising the Sikh students' religious beliefs.
Under the agreement, the kirpan blade must be no longer than 2.5 inches. It must also be dulled and sewn securely into a sheath and further secured in a cloth pouch which the Sikh community in Livingstone designed to accommodate the District's concerns over safety. The parties further agreed to give the District limited inspection rights to be sure that the restrictions are being followed.
The settlement was approved by the Livingstone Union School Board at its June 10, 1997 meeting.