Sikh Couple Forced to Leave Theater for Wearing Articles of Faith

Sikh Couple Forced to Leave Theater for Wearing Articles of Faith

Story tools

A A AResize

Print

 
 
Image: Ikman and Manjot Singh, shown here with their children, were forced to leave an AMC theater in Emeryville, Calif., after security guards accused the couple of carrying weapons.

In a broad-ranging move affecting all Sikh Americans who wear their articles of faith, AMC Theaters has stated it will vigorously enforce its “no weapons” policy after a Sikh couple wearing kirpans (a ceremonial dagger carried by Sikhs) were asked to leave a theater in Emeryville, California.

On June 22, Manjot and Ikman Singh were preparing to watch the new Superman movie, “Man of Steel,” at AMC’s Bay 16 theater in Emeryville. After finding seats, Manjot Singh went to the concession stand, where he was confronted by security guards who said he was carrying a weapon. Singh and his wife Ikman both wear kirpans under their clothing; both were asked to leave the theater.

AMC communications director Andy DiOrio told India-West the company has banned weapons of any sort in its 347 theaters across the U.S. and Canada. “We vigorously enforce our no weapons policy for all patrons,” he asserted.

DiOrio referred to the kirpan – a blunt, ceremonial blade carried by Sikh men and women – as a knife, and added that knives were prohibited at AMC theaters. Asked if this effectively barred all observant Sikhs from attending AMC theaters, DiOrio repeated his earlier comment and characterized the kirpan involved in the incident as a “5 ½ inch unsheathed knife.”

AMC has issued a corporate statement, saying: “Our no weapons policy prohibits guests from carrying weapons of any kind into our theaters. This national policy is for the safety and security of our guests and staff.”

“The person in question was approached when our security team noticed the guest was wearing an approximately 5-1/2 inch unsheathed knife, in clear violation of our rules. We stand by our policy, as this matter is about the weapon alone and not at all about religious freedoms. The safety and security of all our guests and associates is our duty and responsibility, and we take it very seriously.”

In an interview with India-West, Manjot and Ikman Singh both stated they were humiliated by the incident. Manjot Singh said he could see at least three security guards eyeing him as he approached the concession stand. As he prepared to head back into the theater, allegedly tailed by the guards, Manjot Singh said one of the guards approached him and asked him to step aside.

The guard allegedly told Singh he believed he was carrying a weapon. Singh replied he was not carrying a weapon, but was wearing his kirpan under his shirt. The security guard allegedly said, “I know all about Sikhs and we have a zero tolerance policy towards weapons,” according to Singh, who replied that he did not have a weapon.

The security guard reportedly asked Singh to remove his kirpan, saying he would keep it for him until after the movie was over. Singh explained it was an article of faith that could not be removed. The security guard then allegedly asked Singh to leave. Singh mentioned that his wife – who was inside the theater – also was wearing a kirpan. A security guard went inside the theater to find Ikman and brought her out.

“I saw my husband standing there and I asked what happened and he said, ‘they’re kicking us out.’ I was just in shock as to how someone could even do that,” Ikman Singh told India-West. She added that a kirpan is a religious requirement for Sikh women, who are considered equal to men according to the tenets of their faith.

Manjot Singh said he was interrogated by theater security for about 20 minutes, in full view of other patrons. “A few people were staring and looking at us like we were crazy. Looking the way we do, you can’t help but feel people must think we did something wrong for this to happen,” he said. Singh said he and his wife were looking for an apology from AMC as well as a “kirpan policy” at the theaters.

“It is not acceptable to racially profile and pick someone out of a line because you think they look scary. (AMC) needs to educate their employees on Sikhs and on how to deal with different people in general. This level of bias, insensitivity and discrimination is illegal and unacceptable in 21st century California,” stated Manjot Singh.

United Sikhs has taken up the Singhs’ complaint and has launched a campaign to get AMC to define its policy regarding kirpans at its theaters. Manmeet Singh, a staff attorney with the organization, told India-West he had contacted AMC on the couple’s behalf, but has not yet received a response.

“The kirpan Manjot was carrying has the bluntness of a butter knife,” said Manmeet Singh, adding that it was inaccurate for the AMC to characterize it as a knife or a weapon. Manmeet Singh noted that Manjot and Ikman daily wear their kirpans to their workplaces and other venues, including courthouses, without incident.

“AMC is conveying the message that Sikhs are not welcome at their cinemas, and that they will continue to racially profile on the basis of appearance,” stated Manmeet Singh. United Sikhs has started a petition drive – which can be accessed from the unitedsikhs.org Web site – aiming to convince AMC to change its policies regarding kirpans at its theaters.

The Singhs are also being represented by civil rights attorney Harmeet Dhillon, who is collaborating with United Sikhs on the case. Dhillon told India-West she has asked AMC to release a surveillance video of the incident and hopes to work with the company to create a consistent policy regarding kirpans.

“In this case, it is very clear that at no time did the theater personnel ever see Manjot’s kirpan, because he wore it under his clothes. They singled him out for questioning because he is Sikh and looks different, and because his very appearance as a Sikh made them feel uncomfortable,” the Indian American attorney said.

“The theater’s alleged policy is not posted anywhere in the theater that patrons can see, and it is enforced in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion against people who look different,” added Dhillon, explaining that theaters can define a dress code, but not one that forbids people wearing religiously-mandated attire from entering the theater.

Dhillon said that the Singhs will file a lawsuit against AMC as a last resort; a suit is not currently being prepared, she added.