Tagore v. Dept. of Homeland Security, Houston, TX (2010-2014)

In this case, the Becket Fund defended a federal employee’s ability to engage in a core Sikh religious practice. As a result of the successful lawsuit, the federal government changed its nationwide policies to accommodate Sikh federal employees and also agreed to a settlement.

In April 2005, Kawal Tagore reported to her job with the IRS at the Leland federal building in downtown Houston, as she always did. But that day was different: her supervisor sent her away from the office and told her not to return.

Ms. Tagore had recently been baptized in the Sikh faith. She thus begun carrying a kirpan, one of the five articles of faith that all baptized Sikhs are required to carry. A kirpan is an emblem resembling a small knife with a blunt, curved blade. It is a symbol that is meant to remind Sikh believers of their commitment to a just and humane society.

Even though she went through security without a problem, and even though the building contained sharper, more dangerous blades than Ms. Tagore’s kirpan—scissors, box cutters and cake knives—Ms. Tagore was banned from the federal building. She worked from home for about nine months before she was fired altogether.

The Becket Fund litigated the case in Houston federal district court, defending Ms. Tagore’s right to wear her kirpan as a symbol of her faith. On November 4, 2014, the government agreed to settle the case – a victory for Sikh Americans and religious freedom. Her case set an important precedent for other members of the Sikh community seeking to serve their country as federal employees.

 

 

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