As many of you have already heard, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last week vetoed a proposed law pertaining to Sikhs and Sikh articles of faith, including the kirpan. In the aftermath of the announcement, there has been some confusion about the purpose of the law and the meaning of the Governor’s veto. Below, we have tried to address a few of the main questions we are being asked by community members about the bill and the veto.
1. What was the purpose of the bill?
The bill was intended to educate law enforcement about how to recognize and interact with a Sikh, and how to behave in a sensitive manner with regards to Sikh articles of faith, including the kirpan. The bill focused solely on education for police officers. Contrary to media reports, the bill itself did not have any provision that would have made it legal or illegal to carry the kirpan.
Our hope in introducing the bill was that educating law enforcement would lead to fewer arrests of Sikhs for carrying kirpans because officers would know how to identify a kirpan and understand that it is an article of faith.
2. Why did the Governor veto the bill?
In his veto message, Governor Schwarzenegger cited only one reason for refusing to allow the bill to become law: That the training commission for police officers should be free to decide its own curriculum without a law telling them what to do. While this may be true as a general matter, there are 2 main reasons why Assembly Member Furutani, all of his fellow lawmakers and the Sikh Coalition thought this bill was necessary.
- The commission has stood by for the last 8 years, watching the problems between Sikhs and law enforcement grow more acute, and has not taken any action to remedy this problem. That is precisely when the legislature feels compelled to act – when a government agency is not doing enough to protect the State’s citizens.
- Last year, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a similar law that mandated training for police officers about how to identify and interact with an autistic person. The Sikh training law was modeled on that bill, and the Governor did not bring up this concern for last year’s law. Because he has supported bills like this in the past but refused to support this bill for Sikhs, that is why his move is interpreted as a lack of support for the Sikh community. This interpretation has been supported by several Sikh and non-Sikh religious and civil rights groups.
3. Does the Governor’s veto mean that it is illegal to wear a kirpan in California?
No. The veto of this bill in no way affects the legality of the kirpan in the State of California. Some media outlets have incorrectly reported that the veto has made it illegal to wear kirpans in California. This is not true.
California does not have a law that specifically allows or disallows the wearing of the kirpan. The Sikh Coalition maintains that wearing a kirpan is a legal activity. However, because an individual police officer may not know what a kirpan is, and may be unaware of its purpose, he/she may arrest a Sikh for wearing a kirpan under the “concealed weapons” law. In all the cases we know of, however, the Sikhs arrested for wearing a kirpan have either not been charged with any crime by the prosecutor or have had the case against them dismissed by a judge. The question of whether a Sikh is criminally liable in California for wearing a kirpan has never been litigated in a California court.
4. Was Cost an Issue?
No. Cost was not an issue for introducing the proposed training. Both the Assembly and Senate Finance Committees had passed the bill (in the midst of the budget crisis, no less), because the training commission had assured them that the cost was so minimal that it would be considered negligible.
The cost of creating training materials was minimal because these already exist for free. Trainings are available from the federal government, various state law enforcement agencies, the Sikh Coalition, SALDEF and many other Sikh organizations who have already been doing these trainings. In addition, because the training was built into existing curriculum for the peace officers, actually doing the training would have been rolled into existing training costs, which are already part of the training commission’s budget.
5. So what next? Should we protest?
At this point, staging a protest will not do much to sway the decision. The governor has vetoed the bill and it has effectively been killed for this year. However, in the coming months, we will be reaching out to the Training Commission to encourage them to develop the training materials on their own (without the passage of a law). At that stage, we would very much appreciate the community’s support in pressing the Commission to implement Sikh training for law enforcement officers.