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.

For the full story, click here.

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

  1. How do you think a Revenue Agent would audit a corporation if they didn’t go to the place of business? It is standard. It is necessary. The article says they allowed her to work from home. My guess, they gave her a project to work on. Assembling information of some kind. And, it couldn’t last forever. They usually have clerical employees do this type of work. I am speculating, but I believe they gave her work to do while this was sorted out.

    It would surprise me if it was not included in the job description. As I recall, reliable transportation was also included. You must be able to go out to businesses, and have reliable transportation. I suppose in NYC or DC this would be different.

    If I were on the jury, she would not win.

    And, I am a liberal.

    When I worked there, years ago… before computers, there was a guy who had a learning disability of some type. Whatever it was, his handwriting was so bad that very few could read it. A clerk-typist was required to type all his reports. Time consuming, as much of what he wrote could not be deciphered without asking him. (No, not me.) No other agent had that. It’s not like the government doesn’t try to assist. But, I really don’t think she could do her job.

  2. My editing skills are sub par today: “… fact the article…” and “…Because of what the majority…”

  3. Mimi,

    First of all, tucking it in wasn’t my solution, according to JT “Her 9-inch kirpan is sheathed under her shirt.”

    As to your other point, there is no evidence that she needed to visit other businesses to do her job. As a matter of fact she the article implies that she was able to do her job at home for 9 months with no problem. Even if this wasn’t the case, since when do we curtail freedoms because of the majority thinks? One of the reasons we have a Constitution is to help protect against the tyranny of the majority.

  4. Gyges,
    Above comment says the Kirpan is meant to be worn so it is visable. Your answer is to keep the handle dept tucked in under her shirt. I don’t think that would solve the problem.

    But, again, businesses to whom she must go out and audit are not going to accept the Kirpan in any case. Therefore, she can’t do her job. How can you force an independent business to let her through their security, and force their staff to work with her. They are not going to accept her wearing the Kirpan. And, they shouldn’t have to.

    Would your company hire her if she came in for an interview wearing the Kirpan? Would you? (Though the old John Belushi Samurai skits do come to mind.)

    Most federal employees aren’t even allowed to wear a political button during election time. (I worked for the government years ago. Maybe it’s different, but I doubt it.) Even then the workforce was diverse, and consideration was made to all. The Kirpan is over the line, in my opinion. It would prevent her from doing her job.

  5. I want to start off by saying I think Mespo’s got the best solution to this situation. I will point out that she DID try to compromise (going from a 9 inch Kirpan to a 6 inch).

    I’ve been wondering when something starts being a weapon. I mean this in all sincerity. If I’ve got a 6 inch steel crucifix I’ve got something every bit as dangerous as a blunt and sheathed symbolic knife. Would the IRS call this a deadly weapon and ban it from the premises?

    If a blade is dull (and has never been sharp) why is it still considered a blade? And if it doesn’t have a blade, why is it still considered a knife? You can argue ancestry and symbolism, but Christians use a very violent and bloody form of execution for one of their main symbols.

    The other main argument against her wearing it seem to be “other people are ignorant and could misunderstand the symbol.” That doesn’t really fly with me. A religion being unfamiliar to other people shouldn’t preclude the members from displaying their faith. Look at the picture in the original article keeping in mind that picture is meant to highlight the Kirpan. Other than an initial reaction to the new and different, I can’t see the Kirpan wouldn’t be any more of a distraction than a large broach in an every day office setting, especially if the handle is kept tucked in under her shirt.

  6. Revenue Agents work in the field. For the most part a Tax Auditor works in the office, and a Revenue Agent (generally more education and more pay) works in the field. They generally do Audits of Corporations. (This is a generalization. There are agents who do other work, but generally speaking, agents work the field.)

    I think there is going to be a problem if ANY sword, plastic or not, is worn to a taxpayers place of business. They don’t go in threw the back door or some service entrance. They generally arrive at the business like all the employees of that business, briefcase in hand. It’s not a faith thing. And, I think it’s unreasonable to ask to carry a weapon, symbolic or not, into Starbucks headquarters, or Walmarts, or anywhere. And, lots of businesses now have security to get into the workplace. So, now you have an IRS agent, explaining his/her sword to the security guard. Who, isn’t going to let that person in, symbolic weapon or not. Now you have the taxpayer calling the IRS saying “not gonna happen”. So, now the agent can’t do his/her job. But… give ’em a “special project” to do at the office? This request is unreasonable. And, the IRS should just show that the person can’t do his/her job.

    Seriously, would any law firm allow it’s attorney to carry a sword?

  7. “I think a reasonable accommodation could be made to permit a nonlethal (plastic or miniaturized) version of the symbol. If in fact the kirpan is mere symbol, and not an object of self-defense or intimidation, I do not see how this would upset any tenet of faith.”

    I agree with this. If the kirpan is a mere symbol then it shouldn’t matter whether the item is 6 inches long or 2.5 inches long, or whether it’s metal or plastic. The IRS in my opinion is reasonable to draw the line at six-inch knives in the workplace, and the employee needs to find another way to express her faith.

  8. If she was a revenue agent, her job most likely included going to peoples businesses to audit. (tax auditors most often work at the IRS offices, and revenue agents work in the field.) I don’t think I would want her coming into my business with a sword, relious symbol or not.

    Hi Professor. I got to your site via Jesus’s General.

  9. Societies have laws that are at least purportedly meant to promote the well being of the general public. When one group is not allowed to carry a weapon because that is the law, and another is allowed, that is NOT religious discrimination against the Sikh, but against the non-Sikh.

    Freedom of religion was never meant to create a group with special privileges. If someone feels that strongly about this practice, they should move to somewhere where it’s legal. You are free to make whatever religious choices you wish, but you are also free to accept the consequences of those choices.

  10. LOL! My God we are even debating this! They need to GET RID OF THE KNIVES AT WORK!

  11. Gyges,

    My only rebuttal would be that the issue had to make it to the lawyers before it was resolved instead of being handled properly by the school administrators. I would like it if everyone was even keeled and fair minded but I have to wonder, how much of the ‘things got smoothed over really quickly’ was because they genuinely cared about freedom of expression and free exercise and how much was “Do you have any idea how much she could sue us for?”


    Despite what I said before, I agree that justice must be blind to culture and religion. Allowing a group of people special exceptions to the law in the name of ‘tolerance’ is not a solution. Here I think the law should be changed. In this case though we’re talking about hiring policies (et al; dress codes, school handbooks), which I’m hard pressed to consider a guide for ‘justice’.

  12. i wouldn’t worry about the knife.
    i worry about the people that get scared half to death because someone odd looking (to them)scares them so damn much.

    that said, if i were the one with the symbolic knife i would not be offended if an officer asked me to show it to prove it was dull.

  13. MASk,

    A couple of years after. There were some issues with people told not to wear Pentacles a few years earlier, which is why this got settled so quickly.

  14. Gyges,

    Was this before or after the implementation of the ‘zero tolerance’ policies after Columbine?

  15. MASk,

    When I was in high school a girl I was pretty well acquainted with got suspended for bringing a knife to school. It was a pagan religious symbol on a necklace (maybe 3/4 of an inch in length), worn by a practicing pagan. Once the schools lawyers found out about that, things got smoothed over really quickly.

  16. {Quote}

    “They represent a Sikhs duty to protect the weak and promote justice.”

    However, promoting *justice* through religious “beliefs” by displaying symbolic knives in *government* buildings is not one of the ways we conduct *justice* in the United States of America.

    If we allow that form of *justice* the skinheads whose “religion” requires AK-47s must be sanctioned if only rubber bullets are chambered in their weapons.

    Do you think the IRS would allow an employee to carry an inoperable plastic handgun strapped in a holster to work; why then allow the kirpan?

  17. It wouldn’t matter how much you shrunk or changed it. The kirpan is meant to be worn openly and their will always be someone who will blindly object to any representation of a weapon, regardless of the meaning behind it.

  18. I have mixed feelings on the kirpan. While I endorse the right to express one’s faith, I think that employers have the right to establish the terms of employment and the duty to provide a safe work place. I think a reasonable accommodation could be made to permit a nonlethal (plastic or miniaturized) version of the symbol. If in fact the kirpan is mere symbol, and not an object of self-defense or intimidation, I do not see how this would upset any tenet of faith.

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