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USA Implications of Kirpan Ban in Rochester Gurdwara’s Lawsuit

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by spnadmin, Apr 9, 2011.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Implications of Kirpan Ban in Rochester Gurdwara's Lawsuit

    By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau

    What began last year as a commonplace lawsuit about control of the Gurdwara of Rochester, New York, has turned into a case with possible implications about the ability of Sikhs to freely carry Kirpans in the United States.

    “I do not want to get into the issues relating to our own history and our current and future needs,” said Santokh Badesha, a member of the board of trustees and a plaintiff in the case. You are very aware of the Kirpan issues and counter arguments for and against. “Any of my answers …would have legal implication for our pending case.”

    The World Sikh Council – America Region, an Ohio-based group of about 38 gurdwaras and seven organizations, stated it would accept nothing short of a full retraction of all Kirpan related items from court documents. The council became involved in the matter because Kirpan issues were interjected into the management dispute, representatives said.

    According to court documents, in The trustees had first asked the court in May 2010, the trustees asked the Supreme Court in Monroe County, a lower state court, to issue a temporary restraining order to bar three members of the gurdwara for disrupting Sunday services. Among the other four relief items, they also asked that Kirpans be banned from the premises.

    The judge granted all relief items, including a ban on Kirpans.

    News reports spread quickly saying Amritdharis were banned from the Rochester gurdwara.

    The trustees went back to court to modify the injunction order from a total ban to a conditional ban. The Jan. 11 order allows the gurdwara’s general secretary to approve, on a case-by-case basis, Kirpans that are less than six inches, and full-size Kirpans for grooms and visiting dignitaries. All Kirpans must be fully sheathed.

    The temporary restraining order has been in effect for more than 10 months. Although these individuals have been barred from coming to the gurdwara, the trustees said having a blanket restriction on Kirpans was requested because of safety issues.

    “…There is precedence for such governance disputes boiling over into violence,” said Badesha, also one of the original founders of the gurdwara more than 30 years ago, in his June 8, 2010, affidavit.

    Of the two news articles from 2010 submitted as evidence, one is about a Kirpan stabbing in Canada. And the other is about a man brandishing a cleaver in an Ohio gurdwara. A Google search did not list any Kirpan violence incidents in the United States.

    “We requested the size limit based on our and congregants’ safety concerns caused by the defendants’ actions inside the worship hall,” he added in an email to SikhNN.

    A police report regarding an individual yelling and disrupting services was also submitted as evidence, but no violence was reported at the gurdwara.

    In restricting Kirpans, the court imposed a broad injunction that impacts not only the parties affected, but also nonparties to the case, said Hansdeep Singh, senior staff attorney for United Sikhs, an international advocacy group based in New York. The judge can do this if he decides that this is their private property, and it has ceased to be a public place, he told SikhNN.

    “I would reach that far only because one side over-played its hand in claiming that they feel their safety was threatened, and the court stepped in not looking at the religious impact,” he added.

    “Sikhs in general have had to make non-Sikhs aware of the significance of the Kirpan,” said Satpal Singh, spokesman for the WSC-AR. There have been court cases brought by Sikhs arrested for wearing a Kirpan, especially after 9/11.

    “If a gurdwara says there is no need for Amritdharis to carry a Kirpan. And in sworn affidavits it says that Guru Gobind Singh only instituted the Kirpan for Sikhs fighting Mughals, then this sets a precedent that can go a very long way (against Sikhs). People will say, what is your problem, a gurdwara says it’s not necessary.”

    “How can our organizations fight for permission to wear Kirpans in schools, colleges and workplaces when our own people are putting a ban on the Kirpan inside a gurdwara,” said Gurrinder Singh Bedi, a defendant.

    Other Sikh groups that were asked for comment either did not respond or stated they did not want to be associated with the case.

    One advocacy attorney said, on condition of anonymity: “This whole scenario is a disaster for our work and that of other like-minded, active groups and individuals.”

    United Sikhs said the ban on Kirpans creates a problem of perception.

    “This absolutely presents more challenges for us,” Hansdeep Singh said. “We already have hurdles to overcome, and in this case, our own community has put our ability in jeopardy, …and undermined our arguments for us.

    “We can, (however), distinguish these things, make it clear that they have no relation to cases in which we are seeking accommodations,” he said.

    If made permanent, the ban can be challenged on First Amendment rights, he added. “(But) in barring Kirpans, it ceases to be a gurdwara in our eyes.”

    The Akal Takhat echoed the same sentiment last month.

    Unable to address the issue with the trustees, the WSC-AR, which was established under the patronage of the Akal Takhat, approached the highest seat of Sikh authority. The council’s envoy in Amritsar delivered copies of court documents to Jathedar Gurbachan Singh and his personal assistant, Jaswinder Pal Singh, at a meeting at least a month ago.

    In its March 9 letter, the Akal Takhat responded angrily: “…Exploiting the American judges’ lack of complete knowledge about the Sikh faith, you have made highly misleading and false statements to them about the fundamental principles and rules of the Sikh faith. In these statements, you have mocked the holy Sikh Kakaars with the selfish motive of winning your lawsuit.”

    The trustees had previously attempted to temper the Akal Takhat with the new court order to restrict rather than ban Kirpans. They met with its fact-finding committee in January, and then engaged in a conference call with the jathedar.

    They also sent two letters to the Akal Takhat in late January and early February in which they justified the restrictions by saying that it is difficult for Sikhs to lawfully carry Kirpans in the United States that are greater than six inches.

    “Sikhs have brought 22 cases since 9/11,” Hansdeep Singh said. “All were dropped.”

    United Sikhs took part in two of the cases in which Kirpans were carried in public places. Both were dismissed in the interest of justice, under First Amendment protection, he said.

    In another case, a college student in Detroit was arrested for bringing two Kirpans onto campus, a 5-inch and a 10-inch. The judge also dismissed that case, he said.

    “We have more rights than that group is making it out to be.”

    The Akal Takhat stated it considers the Kirpan restrictions equivalent to a full ban.

    “A site or a religious place where there is any restriction of any kind on any of the Kakaars (Kirpan, Kanga, Kesh, Kachh or Karra) gifted by Guru Sahib, such site or place absolutely does not retain the right to be called a Sikh Gurdwara,” the Akal Takhat said in its letter to Badesha and the trustees. “Thus, in the current unfortunate situation created by you at the Gurdwara Sahib at Rochester, while under the facade of a modification there is relief on bringing in a 4”-6” Kirpan, the ban on the complete freedom of Guru approved Kirpan is still in place unchanged.”

    In an email to SikhNN, Badesha responded: “Once the temporal issues are legally resolved, we would consider working with an independent body to readdress the Shri Sahib’s remaining issues, if there is any.”

    http://www.sikhnn.com/headlines/1356/implications-kirpan-ban-rochester-gurdwara’s-lawsuit
     

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  3. Kanwaljit Singh

    Kanwaljit Singh India
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    This is going insane. If in the court can be proved that it is no longer a public religious place, but a private property.. those guys would have to shell out a lot of taxes and lose certain privileges. Now those people won't be happy with that. I hope the legal team can think on these lines too.
     
  4. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    No they do not have to pay taxes. They were incorporated as a private non-profit foundation with a religious purpose. I can get the exact legal standing if you want to see it.

    They clearly mislead the judge. The judge clearly knew nothing about Sikhism. And we also have the court deposition that shows how they did that here online at the forum.
     
  5. CharlesKnuckles

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mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} </style> <![endif]--> “They clearly mislead the judge. The judge clearly knew nothing about Sikhism. And we also have the court deposition that shows how they did that here online at the forum.”


    It truly surprises me how ignorant ordinary people are when it comes to the entirety of this case.


    The Sikh community has been led to believe, by a well-organized smear campaign run by the defendants in this case, that somehow a five member Trustee group conspired to take ownership of a Gurdwara against the majority of the GOR Sangat. People are led to believe that these same five people somehow manipulated the ENTIRE New York State Judicial System to pass judgment against the Sikh religion.


    That is complete garbage.


    A court case was filed to ban 3 to 4 people, and their immediate families, from entering the Gurdwara because of their continual disruptive behavior inside the Gurdwara. The GOR provided video, pictures, depositions [These items have all been referenced in the Badasha depositions], and signed petitions clearly showing these individuals being disruptive inside the Gurdwara. In the US, specifically in New York, the defendants of this case had an opportunity to submit evidence to defend themselves against this lawsuit.


    When the judge saw ALL the evidence, from both the plaintiffs and the defendants, the plaintiffs’ evidence was more credible to the judge and a ruling was made. Additionally, when the Judge saw video and photographs of the defendants, and a small handful of their supporters, trying to intimidate people with drawn swords (SWORDS NOT KIRPANS) and trying to start some kind of fight, the judge, as an act of public safety, indicated that swords were not allowed inside of the Gurdwara.


    The defendants have been very careful to publicize only parts of the evidence that was submitted to the Judge in New York so that they can garner false support. They have NOT shown ANY of their own evidence/depositions stating what their positions are. Additionally they have not publicized ANY of the pictures or video, that was submitted by the GOR, showing the defendants acting like terrorists and street thugs inside of the Gurdwara.


    This case is not about the Kirpan, Sikhism, ownership of the Gurdwara, or any other distraction that the defendants are trying to publicize. It is about 3 to 4 people, and their direct families, that were causing problems inside of the Gurdwara of Rochester.
     

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