14 Oct 2009, 9:45pm
Sikh News:


Gov Schwarzenegger Crushes Kirpan Education Bill with Surprise Veto

Sacramento, CA. October 11, 2009 – In a surprise blow to the Sikh community, Governor Schwarzenegger last night vetoed a bill that would educate law enforcement officers about Sikh articles of faith. The Governor’s decision came as a shock to dozens of organizations, communities and lawmakers who supported the bill. The veto was particularly surprising given the unanimous, bipartisan votes in favor of the bill through both houses of the legislature (77-0 and 36-0 in the Assembly and Senate, respectively).

Take Action: email Governor Schwarzenegger or call him directly at 916-445-2841. Let him know how you feel about him dismissing legislation to ensure law enforcement education on the Sikh articles of faith. Make sure you tell him, “Your lack of support for California’s religious minorities is deeply disappointing. As an immigrant yourself, I would have hoped that you would see fit to support other minorities in our diverse community.”

“This loss for the Sikh community is a reminder of our serious lack of political clout. After months of hard work and 100% support from our lawmakers, the Sikh voice was still not strong enough to overcome the whim of one man. We have been here for over 100 years, but as a community, we need to learn to exercise our political muscle and our voting power,” said Prabhjot Singh, the Sikh Coalition Board Chairman.

The Bill

AB 504 was introduced in February 2009 by Assembly member Warren Furutani (D-Long Beach) to use education to help stem the arrests of Sikhs for carrying their kirpans in California. Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in the arrests of Sikhs nationwide for carrying kirpans. Police mistakenly believe them to be in violation of the concealed weapons laws. Such arrests violate Sikhs’ rights, waste taxpayer money, and have a traumatic effect on the person arrested.

AB 504 was our first attempt to change this dynamic. Though the bill did not touch on the legality of the kirpan, it asked that police officers be trained about who Sikhs are and learn about the significance of the kirpan, in the hopes that religious understanding would decrease arrests. While some police and sheriff’s departments have recognized the need for this type of training and have been conducting it on an ad hoc basis, this law would have standardized and mandated the process state-wide. The bill would have been the first law of its kind in the United States.

What Happened?

The Governor vetoed the bill as “unnecessary.” His message read, “It is the policy and practice of the Commission to periodically review and update existing course curricula.  If the Commission determines that training on the kirpan is warranted, it can create a program without this measure.”

The veto came despite the bill’s broad endorsement by groups ranging from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and party consultants from both sides of the aisle, as well as several religious and civil rights groups. Every single California legislator was in favor of the proposed law. However, numerous efforts by Sikh community members to outreach to the Governor’s office prior to the bill’s consideration were greeted with no response from the Governor. We suspect that the final veto was the result of law enforcement’s strong desire to avoid promoting the acceptance of Sikhs with kirpans.

The veto message was an outrageous response because the language of AB 504 was modeled on a similar bill about people on the autistic spectrum that was signed by the Governor last year. AB 504 was also drafted with input and approval from the Police Officers’ Standard and Training Commission (POST). Given his historic support of similar bills and the Governor’s unwillingness to speak with Sikhs about the bill, his veto is considered to be a direct rejection of California’s Sikhs. Governor Schwarzenegger is no friend of ours.

“The Governor’s response is very disappointing. It shows his lack of support for promoting religious understanding,” said Neha Singh, Western Region Director of the Sikh Coalition. “It is an utter shame that he does not understand the value of educating our law enforcement agencies on the diverse communities they are policing.”

Next Steps

The Sikh Coalition will continue to engage with POST in the coming months to encourage the training that was recommended in the bill. In addition, we hope to work with Assembly Member Furutani to reintroduce the bill in next year’s session. “I am committed to carrying this legislation again until this or any other governor signs it. I urge the Sikh community to stand with me as we continue this fight,” said Assembly Member Furutani.

The Sikh Coalition would like to thank Assembly Member Furutani and all of the AB 504 co-sponsors as well as attorney Nitasha Sawhney, Mr. Nirinjan Khalsa, and the American Civil Liberties Union for their tireless efforts to shepherd this legislation through the bill process.

(This text is from an email sent by the Sikh Coalition to the Sikh News Discussion Yahoo Group)