Sikh-American settles lawsuit over 'kirpan'

An Indian-American Sikh has settled a five-year-old federal lawsuit that alleged she was fired from for her job here for insisting on wearing a 'kirpan' to work.

Houston: An Indian-American Sikh has settled a five-year-old federal lawsuit that alleged she was fired from for her job here for insisting on wearing a 'kirpan' to work.

Former Houston Internal Revenue System (IRS) agent Kanwaljeet Tagore, 41, currently works's as a self employed tax consultant in Houston.

The settlement announced Thursday expunges Tagore's firing from her record, allows her to enter federal buildings with the ceremonial dagger for a period of three years and awards her lawyers USD 400,000 for fees and expenses.

Tagore, however, will be barred from seeking re-employment with the IRS, but may seek work with other federal agencies. Tagore filed the lawsuit in 2009.

"In this case, the government put Tagore in the unacceptable position of choosing between her religion and her job," said Harsimran Kaur, Sikh Coalition's Legal Director.

Houston lawyer Scott Newar, who worked with attorneys from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said the case prompted Federal Protective Services to acknowledge for the first time that wearing a 'kirpan' is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In the settlement, the agency, which oversees security in federal buildings, agreed to educate its employees about the the sacred dagger's significance.

This week's settlement grew out of a trial ordered by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which last year partially reversed a lower court's summary judgment dismissing Tagore's lawsuit.

"Sikh Americans shouldn't have to choose between their faith and their jobs," said Becket Fund lawyer Daniel Blomberg.

"The government doesn't get to say that sharp knives are OK if they are brought in to cut birthday cakes, but dull kirpans aren't OK because they are religious items," he said.

"The settlement confirms that religious freedom is not a second-class right."

The 'kirpan' is a ceremonial sword or dagger carried by baptised Sikhs. They must wear five articles of faith at all times, the 'kirpan' being one of them.  

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