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Ex-IRS Sikh employee may carry Kirpan to work pending court decision

December 12, 2013 | By

Huston, United States (December 12, 2013): As per information the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Houston, Texas, questioned a lower court’s decision November 13 that disbarred a former IRS employee from wearing her three-inch Kirpan to work.

Former IRS revenue agent Kawaljeet Kaur Tagore began wearing a kirpan to work in April 2005, after taking Amrit. She initially started wearing a nine-inch blade, but after a talk with her supervisor, switched to a three-inch kirpan and requested a security waiver from Federal Protective Services, which provides security for the IRS. FPS denied her request.

Kanwaljit Kaur

Kanwaljit Kaur Tagore

Kanwaljeet Kaur’s supervisor asked her if she would consider wearing a shorter blade – 2.5 inches — that could possibly comply with security mandates, but Kanwaljeet Kaur and the Sikh Coalition said no, noting that her blade was already short enough. Kanwaljeet Kaur’s supervisor also asked if she could wear a symbolic blade, encased in Lucite or plastic or leave the kirpan in her car while she was at work.

Amardeep Singh Bhalla of the Sikh Coalition responded on Kanwaljeet Kaur’s behalf, saying that her kirpan was already blunt and further restrictions would violate her religious rights.

The IRS put Kanwaljeet Kaur on “Absence Without Leave” in January 2006, and terminated her six months later. She then filed suit against the agency.

A district court heard the case but denied her appeal, ruling that accommodating the Indian American could create hardships for other employees, including security issues. Costly accommodations would also place the religious practitioner in a more favorable position, at her employer’s expense.

She appealed the ruling, which was heard last month by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth Circuit, interestingly, affirmed, reversed and remanded the district court’s ruling.

“Precisely because kirpans may be dangerous weapons in wrong hands or may fall into the hands of evil-doers who are not Sikhs, there would seem to be support for certain limitations regarding blade length, security clearance status of the bearer of the kirpan, the degree or method of concealment, or degree of attachment to the person’s body,” ruled the Circuit Court.

The Court ruled that further proceedings were necessary to determine why Kanwaljeet Kaur Tagore chose to wear a blade that exceeded federal security standards. The case was returned to district court.

The International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination noted that FPS has established a new policy regarding kirpans in a federal building. Those carrying a blade shorter than 2.5 inches may proceed freely. Sikhs carrying blades of three to six inches in length may request a temporary security clearance from FPS.

The International Center hailed the Circuit Court ruling. “In the future, it will be extremely difficult for any governmental agency or private employer to discriminate against a kirpan-wearing Sikh by claiming that Sikhs do not have a sincerely held religious belief in wearing a kirpan with an edge that exceeds 2.5 inches,” noted ICAAD in a press release.

“Moreover, the government cannot merely use the justification of “security” to bar a Sikh from entering a federal building with his/her kirpan,” stated ICAAD, which had presented the Circuit Court with an amicus curiae for Kanwaljeet Kaur Tagore.

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