Houston Sikh woman’s rights possibly violated by ban on Kirpans in IRS building
By Parmjit Singh
Houston, US (November 21, 2013): It is learnt that a Houston Sikh woman Kawaljeet Kaur has been fighting for her right to carry Kirpan into a downtown Houston federal building for nearly nine years and it appears now that the law may be on her side.
According to certain media reports the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Sikh woman’s religious rights may have been violated by the IRS, leaving the door open for Kawaljeet Kaur Tagore and her counsel to continue pursuing litigation.
In 2009, Kawaljeet Kaur sued the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Treasury, and her former employer, the Internal Revenue Service, because she said they didn’t accommodate her Sikh faith, namely adhering to all five Articles of Faith that are a part of practicing her religion.
The suit maintained that the defendants violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and asked for Tagore to be awarded back pay, front pay, reinstatement, and restoration of benefits, and seniority at the IRS.
These five articles of faith include Kesh (keeping hair uncut), Kanga (a ceremonial comb), Kara (a metal bracelet to be worn), Kachehra (donning a special type of shorts), and Kirpan (a short dagger to be carried at all times). They are physical manifestations of core Sikh spiritual values, according to Sikhs.
According to Chron.Com Kawaljeet Kaur had started work as an IRS employee based at the Mickey Leland Federal Building in downtown Houston in July 2004. She was formally initiated into the Sikh faith the next spring, which meant she was to follow all five articles. Carrying the kirpan violated the rules for bringing in weapons into a government building.
According to Kawaljeet Kaur’s initial suit, the IRS and Kawaljeet Kaur couldn’t come to a reasonable way to accommodate her religious beliefs, though there was evidence that the federal government had violated their own rules.
“There are hundreds of objects in the Leland Building that are both sharper and longer than Kawaljeet Kaur’s kirpan,” the suit alleged, including letter openers and kitchen knives. Even carrying a shorter kirpan didn’t satisfy the IRS, according to the suit.
A letter from the Sikh Coalition explaining that Kawaljeet Kaur Tagore’s three-inch kirpan, which was a half inch longer than the allowed two-and-half-inch blades, didn’t change matters for the Federal Protective Service. Tagore was terminated by the IRS in July 2006.
The Fifth Circuit court in New Orleans was candid in its statement.
“After reviewing hundreds of pages of deposition testimony and exhibits, the district court concluded that Tagore did not create a triable issue of fact that her sincere religious beliefs require her to wear a kirpan with a three-inch, rather than the statutorily permitted blade,” Judge Edith Jones wrote for the panel. “With due respect to the able court, this is slicing too thin.”
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