Sikh Kirpan stirs controversy in Queensland School

Sikh kirpan

BRISBANE – The Education Department has today completely backflipped on comments made about religious Kirpan being allowed in Queensland schools.

It comes after The Courier-Mail revealed the father of a student, who is also a member of the Sikh faith, was allowed to bring a kirpan — a religious ceremonial sword — through the gates, as long as he covered it.

When contacted by The Courier-Mail yesterday a spokeswoman for the acting Education Minister Grace Grace backed the principal’s handling of the situation, which happened last year.

The department is aware of a nonviolent incident involving a kirpan at a school more than 18 months ago,” the spokeswoman had said.

“The incident was appropriately managed by the principal at the time.”

But today the Department’s Director General Dr Jim Watterston said the wrong decision was made to allow a man to bring a kirpan onto school grounds.

“The wrong decision was made. And let’s be really clear about that,” Dr Watterston told ABC Radio today.

“As it states very clearly in the Queensland Weapons Act of 1990, a kirpan — which is the name of that ceremonial knife — cannot be worn into the school grounds. Based on the Weapons Act it’s constituted as a knife.”

A concerned parent, worried that children might be frightened and in danger, had contacted the Education Department about the incident.

The principal of the school had contacted police to seek advice about whether the kirpan was allowed.

Two officers told the principal that the item — which is a religious symbol and must be worn by Sikh males — was completely legal.

“I realise it’s ceremonial and I realise it’s got some religious value, but we don’t tolerate knives in schools and there’s no grey areas around this,” Dr Watterston said today.

“It’s unfortunate that the principal got some advice that was well-meaning and at the time thought was correct, but it wasn’t correct.”

Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls said someone in the Education Department needed to take responsibility for the advice provided to the principal.

I think the principal tried to find out in good faith,” he said.

“I think the problem lies further up the chain than simply with the principal.”

OVERNIGHT: School allows Sikh Kirpan on school grounds

A QUEENSLAND school has bowed to religious sensitivities and allowed a parent to carry a kirpan through its gates despite another parent’s complaints about student safety.

The kirpan is one of five ceremonial symbols that must be worn by males of the Sikh religion.

According to Queensland law, the kirpan is illegal on school grounds.

But the Education Department has vowed to keep allowing the item to be worn around students on a “case-by-case basis”.

The principal of the school last year sought advice from two police officers about the legality of the kirpan around students and was told it was completely legal.

He was told by a senior police sergeant the man’s kirpan was allowed on school grounds if covered.

As a result, the principal told the Sikh parent he could keep wearing it, but suggested he also wear “a two-piece outfit so the kirpan is not conspicuous”.

The principal’s handling of the situation caused more outrage and the concerned parent wrote to Education Minister Kate Jones.

The name of the school in question has been withheld by the State Government, but the Minister’s briefing note on the situation — obtained by The Courier-Mail — reveals she was made aware that kirpans in school were illegal.

It is not clear what action Ms Jones took. But she was advised last year that reporting kirpans to police could cause unrest within Queensland’s Sikh community.

She was also advised that a policy be created Queensland-wide about the use of weapons on school grounds.

Educate the school community to ensure that all students, parents and staff are aware of the policy for carrying knives on school grounds,” Ms Jones’ adviser wrote to her.

“I am of the view that the contents … contained in this brief are not suitable for publication as the matter may have cultural sensitivity for members of the Sikh religion.”

Despite the warning, the ministerial briefing note was released to the public under Right to Information laws earlier this month.

Queensland’s Weapons Act 1990 states the kirpan cannot be worn on school grounds for any reason.

But a spokeswoman for the acting Education Minister Grace Grace backed the principal’s handling of the situation.

“The department is aware of a non-violent incident involving a kirpan at a school more than 18 months ago,” she said.

“The incident was appropriately managed by the principal at the time.”

A spokesman for the Education Department told The Courier-Mail: “A kirpan generally has a dull blade and dull point, and therefore may not be considered a weapon“.

“If a state school principal becomes aware that a kirpan carried by a student or staff member on school premises has a sharp edge or is pointed or is being used to threaten or harm, the kirpan may be considered a weapon.

“In these instances, the kirpan may be retained by the principal and the matter referred to the police.”

Punjabi Cultural Association of Queensland spokesman Avninder Gill said he was confused by the legislation surrounding the blade.

He said the kirpan should be allowed, as long as parents were told of its significance.

“If it’s against the law, then I’m not sure what you should do,” he said.

“It’s not a problem for me, but if someone doesn’t know why he has it, I can understand (why some people might be scared).

It should be up to the school (to decide if the kirpan is allowed). This is a very important symbol for the Sikh community. It’s not a knife.”

P & Cs Queensland chief executive Kevan Goodworth said anything illegal should not be supported by schools.

Obviously we support what is legal. If it’s illegal, then it can’t be supported by anybody,” he said.

Sikh males must wear five religious symbols: The kirpan, uncut hair, a steel bracelet, a wooden comb and cotton underwear.