WASHINGTON – Sikh representatives will not participate in an interfaith meeting with Pope Benedict XVI during his U.S. visit next month because the Secret Service won't allow them to wear a ceremonial dagger that members of the Eastern religion must carry.
Sikhs had been invited to join other religious leaders for a 45-minute meeting with Benedict on April 17 in Washington to express a shared commitment to peace. But the Secret Service would not allow the Sikhs to carry a kirpaan, which resembles a small sword or dagger.
The kirpaan "represents the Sikh commitment to resist oppression and injustice" and is to be carried "only in a defensive posture and never to initiate confrontation," according to the World Sikh Council-America Region.
"We have to respect the sanctity of the kirpaan, especially in such interreligious gatherings," Anahat Kaur, secretary general of the Sikh Council, said in a statement. "We cannot undermine the rights and freedoms of religion in the name of security."
Ed Donovan, a Secret Service spokesman, said: "We understand the kirpaan is a sanctified religious object. But by definition, it's still a weapon. We apply our security policy consistently and fairly."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Sikh leaders have engaged in interfaith dialogue for the last few years. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the conference, said the bishops "feel very sad" that the security concerns could not be resolved.