Monday, February 22, 2016

The Facts of the Case

During the summer of 2014, Petitioner and a number of other Sikh children and their parents moved into the city of Titanville.

A Sikh is a follower of Sikhism - a monotheistic religion which originated during the 15th century in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent - and a religious commandment of Sikhism requires that Sikhs must wear five articles of faith at all times, one of these items of faith being the kirpan.

A kirpan is a curved ceremonial sword or dagger. Kirpans are often between 3 and 9 inches long, and must be made of steel or iron. This small steel blade, kept in a sheath, is an emblem of courage and self-defense, symbolizing the Sikh’s readiness to defend the weak and innocent.

The Titanville School District has a zero tolerance policy regarding weapons on campus. However, in response to the facts described above, and with the awareness that court cases previously had taken place between individuals of the Sikh religion and school districts with “zero-tolerance” policies, (Cheema v Thompson), the Titanville Unified School District established a policy related to the wearing of kirpans. This policy mirrors that of accepted accommodations made in the previous case mentioned above, except for one area regarding the substance of the blade.  

Beginning in the fall of 2014, Titanville’s policy mandated that Sikh children attending any of the Titanville schools may attend school wearing a kirpan, with the following provisions:

  • The kirpan blade can not exceed 3 1/2 inches in length with a total length of approximately 6 1/2 - 7 inches including its sheath.
  • The kirpan must be placed inside its sheath, then the sheathed kirpan must be placed into a cloth bag.  The bag then must be sewn tightly shut.
  • The cloth bag, containing sheathed kirpan, will be attached to a strap and worn  under the children's clothing so that it is not readily visible.
  • The blade of the kirpan must be made of a substance other than metal or hardwood;
  • A designated official of the District may make reasonable inspections to confirm that the conditions specified are being followed.
  • If any of the conditions specified above are violated, the student's privilege of wearing his or her kirpan may be suspended. In addition, the student may be suspended for up to three days.
  • The District will take all reasonable steps to prevent any harassment, intimidation or provocation of the children by any employee or student in the District and will take appropriate disciplinary action to prevent and redress such action, should it occur.
John Doe, a student of the Sikh religion, was one of the students who enrolled in the fall of 2014.  His parents took exception to the district's policy at the time of enrollment, feeling that it violated their first amendment right to exercise their religion freely. However, they reluctantly followed the policy, placing a kirpan made of cardstock within a sheath and then placing the sheathed kirpan into a cloth bag before sewing the cloth bag tightly shut.

However, over the winter break, the Doe’s replaced the card-stock bladed kirpan with a steel-bladed kirpan. This kirpan blade was 3 ½ inches in length and the overall length, which included the sheath, was 6 ½ inches in length.

This metal-bladed kirpan was discovered after it fell to the floor following some serious pushing and shoving that took place during a school recess basketball game when the boys on both sides in that game accused the other side of cheating.

John Doe was immediately suspended from school for three days for having violated Provision 4 of Respondent’s kirpan policy. Petitioner was also directed not to return to school with a metal bladed kirpan, following suspension.

The Doe’s immediately brought action against the school district in the Federal District Court on grounds that their religious freedom had been violated. The court found in favor of the school district, stating that the state (school district) had a compelling interest to deny religious freedom due to the importance of ensuring the safety of the students. 

The Doe’s then appealed the Federal District Court's decision to the United States Supreme Court. The court has not yet ruled on the matter.

The case is entitled Doe v. Titanville Unified School Distict.

(This “fictional fact situation” has been written for educational purposes only)

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