US Sikhs fight for religious rights

A Sikh organisation in the US have filed a lawsuit to protect their right to keep a beard in the US prisons.

The Washington-based Sikh Coalition has filed a case against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on behalf of a Sikh detainee who received disciplinary sanctions for keeping his beard uncut.

The prisoner, Sukhjinder Singh Basra, was following his Sikh religion mandate to keep his beard.

File picture (not related to the story)

The religious body is fighting to ensure that Sikh detainees — and indeed all others who are required to maintain beards for religious reasons — are able to do so without penalty.

The Sikh Coalition teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Southern California, the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, and the law firm Alston & Bird LLP for the lawsuit.

This is the second Sikh Coalition lawsuit against the CDCR. In December 2009, the Coalition filed a lawsuit against California’s prison system for failing to hire a Sikh correctional officer job applicant who refused to cut his beard. That lawsuit remains open.

The Sikh Coalition was able to persuade the U.S. Department of Justice to file a separate lawsuit to protect Basra’s religious rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). This federal law extends basic religious freedoms to detainees and is based on the principle that religious freedom is a fundamental human right.



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