IRS Sued Over Firing Sikh Wearing Kirpan

300px-kirpan_smallKawaljeet Kaur Tagore has sued the Internal Revenue Service in a free exercise case involving the wearing of the kirpan, the ceremonial knife of Sikhism. Devote Sikhs wear five articles of faith: Kesh (uncut hair), which is kept covered by a distinctive turban, the Kirpan (religious sword), Kara (metal bracelet), Kanga (comb) and Kaccha (under-shorts). The IRS, however, drew the line on the kirpan and fired Tagore, 35, for refusing to take off her knife when coming to work as a revenue agent.

Kirpans ofter lead to problems for Sikhs despite the fact that they often have a very blunt edge. They represent a Sikhs duty to protect the weak and promote justice.

Tagore has also filed a case of harassment against the Harris County sheriff’s office after she called 911 on a burglary in their home. She accused sheriffs of pointing their tasers at her when they responded to the call and saw the kirpan on her belt.

Her lawyers in the IRS case note that the kirpan is defined as a dangerous weapon by the agency while it allows sharp scissors, letter openers, knives and box cutters in the Mickey Leland Federal Building in downtown Houston. Kirpans hae been found by prosecutors to be so blunt as to fall outside of a weapons category.

Tagore began working for the IRS in July 2004 and was formally initiated into the religion on April 14, 2005 — and was then obligated to wear the kirpan. Her 9-inch kirpan is sheathed under her shirtbut agreed to wear a shorter 6-inch kirpan when her supervisor expressed concerns. Despite giving the IRS information on the kirpan, it insisted that no knife beyond 2.5 inches would be allowed.

Kirpans are often misunderstood as weapons, including a recent case where a student at Wayne State University prevailed against charges under a local weapons law after he refused the demands of officers to remove the knife. There was a similar case with a Canadian student who won his right to carrying the knife. Likewise, a nursing home was sued in an EEOC action for prohibiting an employee from wearing the kirpan.

Kirpans have been barred from courts in Canada. Other nations continue to charge Sikhs with carrying weapons as in a recent Danish case.

The free exercise claim is obviously more difficult when made in high security areas like airplaes, courts, and of course prisons.

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26 thoughts on “IRS Sued Over Firing Sikh Wearing Kirpan”

  1. I am very surprised by the comments on this article. Being a sikh I moved to america because of what it stood for. A place where anyone can practice their faith without persecution. Maybe my turban will the the next thing that is banned. Because it offends business and scares employees who think i will try to blow up the building one day… Where does the paranoia stop! When did America stop being the land of the Free?

  2. Dave C.

    You can bet that if you strapped those same scissors on your side and wanted to walk around that way in the office on a daily basis that others would have a right to be a bit concerned with you. It would at least be inappropriate behavior and cause for some action against you especially if you proclaimed that it was you religious right to be a scissor-armed saint. Scissor sidearms are not appropriate in an office unless it is your job as head paper cutter and they are in an appropriate holster.

    Alternatively, a person who places a harmless office lampshade on his head and walks around the office proclaiming/displaying that is his religion should be told to remove the lampshade or face disciplinary action. The absurd list of office supply religious symbol apparel could go on ad infinitum. We must all adhere to basic standards of decorum in the workplace. When we get outside or at home, we can ‘let ‘er loose’—lampshades and tin foil hats allowed—as long as we do not harm others, their rights, or their property

  3. My workplace has quite a few scissors lying around that could be used as weapons. Maybe I’ll send an email to my manager asking for them to replaced by miniature plastic ones.

  4. I agree with mespo727272. Not only could the kirpan be artificial (symbolic) it can be miniaturized and encircled and made into jewelery small enough to be unnoticeable. How about a tatoo? Yes I am being serious here.
    I am an atheist so maybe I am not being sensitive but surely this kind of compromise should work.
    I suppose if somebody were to wear a rather large Christian crucifix, a similar thing could happen.

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