IRS Orders Sikh Women to Stop Wearing Kirpan at Work

Kawaljeet began working for the IRS as a staff accountant during the summer of 2004. Last April she took Amrit and began wearing her kirpan along with all the articles of the Sikh faith.

Kawaljeet immediately informed her employer that she would begin wearing her kirpan. The blade of her kirpan is three inches long. She wears it in a gatra, underneath her clothes.

According to Kawaljeet, the employees at her workplace all have access to scissors and heavy staplers. In addition, employees have used knives in office kitchens and box cutters in mailrooms. Since all of these items are more dangerous than her kirpan and are more freely accessible to employees and visitors, Kawaljeet believes she should allowed to be wear her kirpan to work. In addition, she had been able to freely pass through her work building metal detectors while wearing her kirpan.

The IRS responded in April 2005 by requesting that Kawaljeet take time off from work until it determined whether it would allow her to wear her kirpan to work. A few days later, the IRS reassigned her to work from her home until it determined its policy with regard to her kirpan.

Kawaljeet worked from home April 2005 until January 2006 while the IRS determined its policy. On January 20, 2006, the IRS sent Kawaljeet a letter ordering her to appear at work without her three inch kirpan by January 30, 2006 or be considered “Absent Without Leave.” The letter stated that wearing her kirpan to work would violate 18 U.S.C. § 930 which prohibits dangerous weapons in federal facilities, including knives with blades two and one-half inches in length or over. The statute, however, contains an exemption for persons carrying weapons “incident to hunting or other lawful purposes.”

18 U.S.C. §930 is enforced by the Federal Protective Service (FPS), which is under the United States Department of Homeland Security. The January 20, 2006 IRS letter to Kawaljeet also stated that wearing her kirpan to work would violate a “Treasury-wide Rule of Conduct.”

Kawaljeet was thus forced to choose between her kirpan and her job.

Kawaljeet Chooses Kirpan Over Her Job

On January 27, 2006, Kawaljeet reported to work wearing her kirpan. She informed security that she was wearing a kirpan. She was immediately barred from entering the building by the Federal Protective Service.

Coalition Takes Action to Protect Kawaljeet’s Right to Wear Her Kirpan to Work

Kawaljeet contacted the Sikh Coalition to request its assistance soon after she took Amrit. The Coalition has taken the following steps since being contacted by Kawaljeet:

  • On April 19, 2005, the Coalition sent a letter to Kawaljeet’s manager to explain the religious significance of the kirpan and the legal protections for wearing it. The letter included a package of twenty-one pages of legal precedent supporting her right to wear her kirpan to work.
  • On June 30, 2005, the Coalition responded to a letter from the IRS requesting that Kawaljeet either wear a kirpan with a blade smaller than two and one-half inches, wear a kirpan with a dulled blade, wear a kirpan with a duller blade sewn into its sheath, wear a symbolic plastic or lucite kirpan, or leave her kirpan in her car when she comes to work. The Coalition refused these requests on behalf of Kawaljeet as violations of her religious faith
  • On January 24, 2006 the Coalition’s Legal Director wrote a five page letter to the IRS explaining in further detail the laws that protect Kawaljeet’s right to wear her kirpan to work.
  • On January 30, 2006, the Coalition wrote a letter directed at the Federal Protective Service that explained Kawaljeet’s right to wear her kirpan to work and the inapplicability of 18 U.S.C. §930 to Kawaljeet.
  • On February 7, 2006, the Coalition presented a memorandum explaining the violation of Kawaljeet’s religious rights at an Interagency Meeting organized by the United States Justice Departments, Civil Rights Division.
  • On February 8, 2006, the Coalition submitted an informal complaint with the IRS alleging employment discrimination on behalf of Kawaljeet.
  • On February 23, 2006, the Coalition’s Legal Director flew to Houston to represent Kawaljeet at a mandatory mediation session with IRS representatives. The mediation session was not able to resolve the dispute.

Outlook Going Forward

At present the IRS and Federal Protective Service will not allow Kawaljeet to wear a kirpan with a blade that is two and one-half inches or greater. The IRS states that it can not allow her to do so because of the prohibitions contained in its own Rules of Conduct and in 18 U.S.C. §930 which is enforced by the Federal Protective Service.

The Coalition will continue to work with the IRS and the Federal Protective Service so that Kawaljeet will be allowed to wear her kirpan to work. If either or both the IRS and Federal Protective Service continue to stop Kawaljeet from coming to work with her kirpan, the Coalition is ready to file a lawsuit to vindicate Kawaljeet’s right to wear her kirpan.

Courtesy of Sikh Coalition.