DETROIT -- Tensions over a Sikh boy who took a religious sword to an elementary school have prompted a public meeting Thursday night to introduce the Sikh religion to metro Detroiters.
Last month, controversy erupted after a fourth-grade boy at Bentley Elementary in Canton, Mich., was found with a 3- to 5-inch saber.
After they are baptized, Sikh males are expected to carry the religious symbol, called a kirpan. The principal initially decided to allow the boy to have it, since it had a blunt edge and was a religious item. The district did not identify the boy.
But after concerns expressed by parents and a legal review, the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools district decided to ban the kirpan because it violated local, state and federal policies against carrying weapons or items that look like weapons to school.
That concerned some Sikh parents, who say the kirpan is a nonthreatening item that symbolizes their commitment to fighting against evils, such as greed. Similar disputes have erupted in other parts of the U.S.
"It's not an assault weapon," said Tejkiran Singh, 47, of Canton, a Sikh community leader. "It's so small, so blunt. ... The whole purpose of wearing it is that it's a reminder of our spirituality."
The forum Thursday night at St. Thomas a'Becket Catholic Church in Canton is a way to address concerns the public may have about the growing Sikh community. There are now three Sikh houses of worship, known as gurdwaras, in Plymouth and Canton.
"It's to inform people about this great world religion, which many don't know anything about," said Steve Spreitzer, director of programs for the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, which is co- sponsoring the forum with other groups.
On Dec. 16, Plymouth-Canton Schools Deputy Superintendent Kenneth Jacobs sent a letter to parents alerting them to the incident involving the kirpan.
He wrote that while the district values "the right of all students to practice their religion and wear religious symbols," the district will ban "all religious emblems that resemble a weapon."
The district plans to meet with the Sikh community over the next week, said district spokesman Frank Ruggirello Jr.
Rooted in India, Sikhism is a religion that is based on the teachings of 10 leaders known as gurus.
Singh said he hopes the forum can build bridges.
"I hope that human contact and interaction can help us to understand each other."