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(RNS) California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed as “unnecessary” a bill that would require law enforcement officials to learn about Sikhs, specifically a ceremonial dagger called a kirpan considered a central article of faith.
“The veto message makes no sense to us,” said Neha Singh, Western regional director of the Sikh Coalition. “The community is shocked, we are very outraged. It was a real surprise.”
Assembly Bill 504 would have required the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission to create training materials about the Sikh community and the kirpan “as part of peace officers’ cultural diversity and weapons violations training.” The bill passed through both houses of legislature with unanimous, bipartisan votes.
The kirpan is one of five articles of faith carried by Sikhs, mandated by the Rehat Maryada, or Sikh code of conduct. The small dagger is meant to remind Sikhs of their duty to protect the weak and promote justice.
The Sikh Coalition has resolved more than 20 cases nationwide related to the kirpan since the group formed in the aftermath of 9/11.
In most cases, judges dismissed the case or prosecutors agreed not to bring charges when they recognized the religious significance and non-violent intent of carrying the dagger-like object, the group said.
“Generally, part of the problem has been that police officers don’t know what they’re looking at when they see a kirpan,” said Singh.
The POST Commission regularly gathers training officers from across the state to discuss training priorities for law enforcement agencies.
“If in these training needs assessments it is determined that training is needed in regards to the kirpan, training will be developed,” POST spokesman Bob Stresak said.
Stresak said that compared with total arrests made, “statistically (the kirpan) wasn’t a significant issue.” He also noted that the agencies that interact with the state’s two largest Sikh communities have not reported a major concern.
The Sikh Coalition said it may try to reintroduce the bill next session.
By Angela Abbamonte
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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