YUBA CITY (CBS13) – Many in the Sikh community are demanding change after a local Sikh man was barred from jury duty because he refused to remove his religious dagger.
Gursant Singh, along with dozens of supporters, carried signs and demonstrated outside the Sutter County Courthouse after he was denied entrance for jury duty, which was supposed to begin on Tuesday.
Singh has been trying to reach a deal with the court over the religious item known as a kirpan, but was told he could not bring it into the courthouse. The court said it’s a matter of security.
“I either break the law for not showing up for jury duty — they can fine and imprison you if you don’t show up for jury duty — or I break my Sikh code of conduct, one of the two,” said Singh.
A kirpan is a 5-inch blade that is one of the five articles of faith a Sikh must wear at all times. It is a reminder to come to the defense of those in peril. The other articles are:
- The kesh: long, uncut hair that symbolizes the perfection of God’s creation.
- The kangha: a comb that is used twice a day that is also supposed to always be kept with the hair as a reminder to keep lives tidy and organized.
- The kara: an iron band that reminds what’s done with the hands must keep with the Guru’s advice.
- The kachera: An undergarment that symbolizes a soldier’s willingness to be ready for battle or defense at a moment’s notice.
Singh said he would like to be a juror; however, he would rather go to jail than deny his religious beliefs.
“I feel very strongly that as a citizen of the United States that I should be able to serve as a juror,” he said.
The Sikh community is crying out and demanding access to the courts while being allowed to wear the imporant symbol of their faith.
“Even going to the courtroom, we can’t take it off at all,” said Raj Singh.
The dagger has been a part of their religion for more than 500 years.
“We sleep with it. We do everything,” Raj Singh said. “We take showers with it.”
But Sutter County Court Executive Officer Mary Beth Todd says it’s not an issue of religious freedom, but security.
“We do have a no-weapons policy,” she said.
They’re concerned the small blade jeopardizes the safety of everyone entering the building.
“It’s important to secure the courthouse,” she said. “There are many proceedings that go on every day. It can be an emotionally charged environment.”
CBS13 spoke to the Sikh Coalition, who tells us many other agencies have made exceptions for Sikh people to carry their kirpan, and they would expect the same from the court.
“A Sikh man with a dagger has never in history gone into a movie theater or anywhere and attacked defenseless people,” said Jaskarn Singh.
Gursant Singh says he understands the penalties for now showing up for jury duty, which is why he came on Tuesday. He says he’d rather go to prison than deny his religion.