On January 28, 2014 letters were sent to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder by twelve major American Sikh advocacy organizations, including UNITED SIKHS, calling on the Obama Administration to immediately reinstate Kawaljeet Tagore, a Sikh IRS Agent based out of Houston, TX fired in July, 2006 for wearing a kirpan, a Sikh religious article of faith.
Following her termination, Tagore sued the IRS and the Federal Protective Service (FPS),the federal agency responsible for the security of federal buildings, under Title VII and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for failing to accommodate her Sikh religious practice of wearing the kirpan, a dagger-like article that symbolizes the Sikhs’ commitment to justice. Even though FPS and IRS allow saws, box cutters, letter openers, and cake knives into federal buildings for work-related purposes, the IRS and FPS defended Tagore’s lawsuit by claiming that a federal criminal law, 18 U.S.C. section 930, prohibits them from according Tagore any accommodation for her kirpan.
In 2012, a Houston federal judge sided with the government and dismissed Tagore’s lawsuit. However, on November 13, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit—relying on a December, 2012 FPS Policy Directive that requires accommodation of kirpans —reversed the federal judge’s ruling in favor of FPS. The Fifth Circuit held that the new FPS Policy Directive “contradicts the arguments previously advanced by the government for denying Tagore an exception or exemption for the wearing of her kirpan.
Yet, to date, the government has refused to reinstate Tagore to her position as an IRS agent, compensate her, or accommodate her kirpan.
“A hard working IRS agent is being kept from work due to her religious beliefs in a country founded on diversity and religious freedom. The FPS has already allowed 2.5 inch kirpans in almost 9,000 federal buildings but will not allow Ms. Tagore to wear her kirpan to work in an IRS building. Now that this inconsistency has been addressed by the Fifth Circuit, it is time to give Ms. Tagore her job back,” said Anisha Singh, staff attorney and policy advocate for UNITED SIKHS.
In their letter, UNITED SIKHS, along with other Sikh advocacy groups, claim that the “IRS and FPS’ continuing violation of Ms. Tagore’s right to religious accommodation is contrary not only to RFRA and FPS Directive 126.96.36.199 but to the guiding principles and tenets of the Obama Administration,” including an Executive Order that requires federal agencies to promote diversity. The Sikh groups call on Obama to “direct the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, IRS, and FPS to appropriately resolve” Tagore’s lawsuit, by “reinstating her employment with the IRS and providing her with an exemption to wear her kirpan to work.”