An internal revenue agent has sued the IRS for firing her after she insisted on wearing a ceremonial knife on the job.

The agent, Kawaljeet Kaur Tagore, filed suit against the IRS for discharging her in July 2006. She is a religious Sikh who wears a knife known as a "kirpan." The blunt knife is kept in a curved sheath at her side. Tagore initially began wearing a 9-inch knife when she was formally initiated into the Sikh faith in April 2005. The religion requires adherents to wear five sacred articles of clothing.

After her supervisor objected, she switched it for a 6-inch kirpan with a blunt 3-inch blade. According to her lawsuit, the blade never set off the metal detectors in the Leland Building in Houston, and was not able to inflict bodily harm. However, her supervisor pointed out that federal law prohibits people from carrying blades longer than 2.5 inches in government buildings.

"She was always able to go through the metal detector, and it never beeped," said Harsimran Kaur, legal director of the Sikh Coalition, which is helping represent Tagore. "She would come and go several times a day, but after she told her supervisor, he said we have a concern and we need you to not come to work if you wear your kirpan."

Kaur noted that Tagore's office at the IRS contained sharper objects, including scissors, letter openers, box cutters and kitchen knives. The IRS, she claimed, even required Tagore to bring her own scissors and letter opener to the offices of people she was auditing along with a kit of other office supplies, including a fax machine.

Tagore refused to bring an even shorter knife with her to work, however. "It is a signifier of justice and it reminds the Sikh in particular to protect the weak," said Kaur.

After the disagreement with her supervisor, Tagore was permitted to work from home for nine months, but when her supervisor ordered her back to work with a shorter blade, she brought the same kirpan with her. Security officers barred her from the building, and she was fired shortly thereafter.

She is suing the IRS for violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Civil Rights Act, and is asking for reinstatement in her old job along with unspecified monetary damages. Tagore is now employed by a tax consultant and often brings her kirpan to work and to clients' offices. Kaur said her new employer and clients don't object.

Kaur expects the case won't go to trial for another two years if it isn't settled before then. "I think we have a strong case," she said. "I hope reasonable minds could prevail in the federal government."

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