Kirpan Controversy: Why Jerry Coyne Is Right and Hemant Is Wrong — Sikh Daggers Have No Place in Public Schools

Hemant wrote an eye-popping post yesterday in response to an article by Jerry Coyne about Sikh pupils habitually carrying ceremonial daggers called kirpans into U.S. public schools. My friend/colleague/boss argued that Coyne was wrong to object. Since kirpans are part of Sikhs’ religious requirements, Hemant thinks that we should accommodate Sikhs and their kirpans on religious-freedom grounds.

I respectfully disagree — completely. Below, I explain why in five points of rebuttal.


Hemant: “How quickly religious rights go out the window when we’re talking about people who aren’t in the majority.”

Me: Majority or minority status has nothing to do with it. Why would it? Let’s argue this on the merits, irrespective of whose superstitions are most popular.

So, to battle. Religious rights, you say? I call what you propose religious accommodationism. I’m only in favor of that when whatever is being accommodated extends to all pupils. If a school allows head coverings, the right to wear a hat should shouldn’t only be given to Jews wearing yarmulkes. It should also apply to Muslim students who want to wear the hijab … and to atheist students who feel like showing off their Flying Spaghetti Monster beanies.

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Atheist Groups Are Not Distributing “X-Rated” Pamphlets to Students, No Matter What Breitbart Tells You

I’ve seen a number of articles on conservative websites over the past few days claiming, in the case of Breitbart, “Atheist Group To Distribute Pamphlets in Schools of Cartoon Bible Sexually Assaulting Woman.” It stems from an article on

Since those sites won’t bother to do any research, since none of this is news, let me help you out.

The story is old. Really old.

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After FFRF Calls Him Out, Delaware High School Football Coach Remains on the Sideline During Team’s Postgame Prayer

Earlier this month, in a local newspaper’s article about how student-led prayers after football games were absolutely legal, there was a picture that showed — wait for it — Coach Bill Collick of Cape Henlopen High School either leading or joining his team in prayer (both of which are unconstitutional):

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the the district about the prayer and, as you might imagine, people are very upset that anyone is calling them out on their legal violations, including an opposing coach who also prays with his team:

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Lay Off on the Sikh Student Allowed to Bring a Knife Into His School

It’s always interesting to see how quickly religious rights go out the window when we’re talking about people who aren’t in the majority.

Those in the Sikh faith must carry a Kirpan (below), a small knife, at all times. In some school districts, they’ve made exceptions for these potential weapons by saying they had to be sewn into the clothes in an inaccessible way. But since it’s part of the faith, if they were to be banned, that would likely mean an end to all religious symbols (including cross necklaces), so most districts have had to figure out a way to toe the line between respecting religious symbols and defending zero-tolerance policies against weapons.

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Ignorant Christian Parent Furious Because His Son’s School Tried to Educate Students About Islam

It should go without saying that students need a working knowledge of the world’s major religions to understand the motivations of billions of people and the source of who-knows-how-many conflicts. That’s why the Revere Public Schools in Massachusetts make sure they teach about Christianity and Islam and other faiths.

So why is a parent in the district furious?

Because a history textbook said that Muslims believe there is no God but Allah. Which is true. And that, of course, means his son is being indoctrinated into Islam:

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