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Assemblyman introduces bill for police training on Sikh faith

February 26, 2009 | 12:27 pm

Assemblyman Warren Furutani recently introduced legislation that would require police officers to receive instruction about the Sikh faith, whose members carry blades as part of their religion.

The Sikh religion requires practitioners to carry five articles of faith, including a kirpan, which resembles a small, curved sword.

“It symbolizes cutting through injustice and lies to get to the truth,” said Neha Singh of the Sikh Coalition, a civil-rights organization that has an office in Alameda County.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Sikhs carrying the blade, which they consider sacred, have experienced a sharp increase in prosecutions, according to the legislation, AB 504, that Furutani has introduced.

The bill "recognizes the state’s responsibility to protect religious freedoms, while ensuring public safety," Furutani (D-Long Beach) said in a statement. "The Sikh community should not live in fear of arrest by law enforcement for carrying the kirpan, which is an integral part of their religious faith."

Founded in the Punjab region of what is now Pakistan, Sikhism has become the fifth-largest organized religion in the world and has an estimated 200,000 followers in California.

Sikhs, whom Westerners often mistake for Muslims, do not cut their hair and are required to cover their heads. Furutani's bill is scheduled to be reviewed in late March.

-- Corina Knoll