I was never completely comfortable with the whole kirpan thing, especially in schools.
The issue has come up again as a Sikh boy has been accused of threatening his classmates with his kirpan. Instinctively, the charge would appear to be untrue. Although two of the boys are saying that the Sikh boy drew the knife, it sounds from various reports that the other witnesses saw no such thing.
If it were true, it's an easy decision. He has clearly violated the "but it's only ceremonial" exception to the No Knives Rule, and therefore he may no longer have his dagger at school.
But why should a student be allowed to carry a knife in the first place? Yes, it's ceremonial. Yes, it's a sign of his loyalty to his religion. So what? It's still a knife.
I'm personally rather conflicted. As an atheist, I very strongly believe two things:
1) every person must be free to believe or disbelieve, practice or not practice, any religion.
2) the way to get people free of the oppressing yoke of religion is not by suppressing their religion but by letting them practice it and setting a better example before them.
On the other hand, I also have a very strong belief that we shouldn't let anyone's religion trump the very sensible laws that we have on books. That's why it's legal to gather sticks on Sundays, cook food on Friday nights, be a homosexual without being stoned to death and wear clothing of two fibres mixed together.
If a Christian or a Jew came in to my high school and demanded the right to kill the school's only openly gay student, we would say "no", Leviticus 20:13 notwithstanding. The religious freedom of the Christian or Jew would be trumped by the right of the gay student to be free of their respective religions.
But if a Jewish student wanted to wear a yarmulke, or a Sikh student to wear a turban - despite a "no hats" policy at the school - the school would permit it as it doesn't really harm or infringe on other students. What this really does is allow any student to wear any head covering of any religion. After all, who is to say a specific student is really a Sikh or not? Religion being personal, you can't touch it.
But a knife? Even a ceremonial knife? Yes, all sorts of restrictions were placed on the handling of the knife. It must be firmly fastened within its container. It must be inside the students clothing (great, a concealed weapon). If the student ever draws the knife, he will lose the privilege.
It still doesn't make sense. It's still a knife. Even if we educate every student in that school about the religious and apparently non-violent nature of the kirpan, it is still the case that this student has permission to carry a knife when no other student does.
After that, it gets worse. It is very easy for every other student in the school to declare himself or herself a Sikh and demand the right to carry a knife in the same manner. There is no possibility, at that point, of stopping it. Just because some local body of Sikh officialdom might state, "No, this other child is not a Sikh and should be allowed a kirpan", is no reason to deny these other children their religious rights. All these children would have to do is claim that the offical Sikh church is oppressing them and we would have to cave in.
Is that what we want? Schools full of children carry ceremonial daggers? I actually used to attend schools. I know that wouldn't last long. Some kid's dagger would not be properly fastened and would show up in a fight somewhere.
We have rules. They have to be followed. Accommodation ought to be made in the name of freedom of religion and simply to make sure that the religious don't feel persecuted as this would cause them to cling more devoutly to their religions. But the line has to be drawn where the religious rules present a danger to other people. Where knives, stoning and other irrational punishments are concerned, our society must say, "No. You have your beliefs and the right to express them, but you may not infringe upon our safety."