Today's Rupertian reports that the Education and Training Committee of the Victorian Parliament has recommended...
... that schools should work with the Sikh community to allow male students to carry a kirpan - a small, curved ornamental steel dagger carried by all initiated Sikh men.
The Committee also recommends that female Muslim students should be allowed to wear the hijab at school.
Under Victoria's Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, it's unlikely that the committee could have recommended otherwise - one of the rights protected by the Charter is "freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief". Since, for some Sikhs, carrying the kirpan is integral to the practice of their religion, a blanket ban on kirpans in schools would be a denial of this freedom.
Brian Burgess, head of the Victorian Association of State Secondary School Principals reckons the committee got it wrong on this issue (so do a couple of bloggers, which is how I picked it up) and it may be that there are one or two school principals,m and school councils out there who share Burgess' fears of what a kirpan armed Sikh student might do in response to one playground taunt too many, or what might happen if the kirpan falls into the hands of another student.
Expect a pointless controversy over this committee reccommendation; that's what happened in Canada when a Sikh student accidentally dropped his kirpan in the playground, in 2001. The result was a dispute that dragged out until March 2006, when Canada's Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that:
a total ban of the kirpan in schools violates the Charter of Rights because it infringes on the Charter’s guarantees of religious freedom. But it does allow school boards to impose some restrictions on the carrying of kirpans to ensure public safety. (CBC News, March 2, 2006)In fact, such a solution had been proposed, adopted, and then withdrawn earlier in the Canadian case:
Quebec Superior Court Justice Danielle Grenier rules that because the kirpan is an integral part of his religious beliefs, Gurbaj can wear a real one to school as long as he follows several conditions. The kirpan must be sheathed in a wooden case, wrapped in heavy fabric and worn under his clothes. The belt holding the kirpan must also be sewn into his clothing. The judge calls these conditions a reasonable accommodation of Gurbaj’s religious freedoms and the need for public safety. The school board, backed by Quebec PQ government at the time, appeals. (as above)
You'd think that with such stringent safety precautions, and the Supreme Court ruling that would be the end of the matter. Not for some of Canada's bureaucrats:
Quebec's biggest school board is successfully accommodating the religious and cultural differences of its diverse student population — unless a student wants to wear a ceremonial dagger or a face-covering niqab, the head of the board told the Bouchard-Taylor commission Tuesday.
These are simply not allowed, the chair of the Commission Scolaire de Montréal, Diane de Courcy, told the Quebec commission on reasonable accommodation of ethnic and religious minorities, which returned to Montreal Monday for its final hearings. ((CBC News, November 27, 2007)
It would be pleasant to think that we could avoid imitating the Canadians on this issue and following them down the same weary road to obstinate idiocy; but I'm nowhere near that much of an optimist.
(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo in Exile)