Indian Sikh devotee wears a kirpan in hi
Afp-getty Images  /  AFP/Getty Images
Indian Sikh devotee wears a kirpan in his turban as he takes a dip in the Holy Sarover tank in front of the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 2004.
updated 3/6/2008 9:08:44 AM ET 2008-03-06T14:08:44

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.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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