Kawaljeet 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.
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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