Justice department backs Sikh inmate

March 16, 2011

(RNS) The Justice Department has filed suit against California prison
officials on behalf of a Sikh inmate who says his religious freedom was
violated when officials punished him for not cutting his beard.


Sukhjinder Basra, incarcerated at the California Men's Colony in San
Luis Obispo on a drug offense, was punished for refusing to shave his
beard in accordance with prison grooming policy.


The suit states that by requiring Basra to shave, the prison
compelled him to rebel against his religious beliefs, a violation of the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.


"The freedom to practice one's faith in peace is among our most
cherished rights," said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the
Civil Rights Division. "RLUIPA has proven to be a powerful tool in
combating religious discrimination and ensuring religious freedom."


RLUIPA became law in 2000 and defends the religious freedom of those
in prisons, mental health facilities and state-run nursing homes.


Practitioners of Sikhism hold that cutting one's hair violates God's
design.

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