Lawsuit Filed: Right to Maintain Kesh in Prison

Coalition Files Second Lawsuit Against California Prison System

April 2, 2011 (Washington, DC) - The Sikh Coalition has filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on behalf of Mr. Sukhjinder Singh Basra, a Sikh detainee, who suffered repeated disciplinary sanctions for keeping his religiously-mandated beard uncut.  The lawsuit was filed in partnership with theAmerican 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.

The ultimate aim of this litigation is 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.

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 and is actively being litigated.

Coalition Helps Bring Additional Partners to the Fight

In addition to enlisting the help of the ACLU and Alston & Bird, the Sikh Coalition was able to persuade the U.S. Department of Justice to file a separate lawsuit in order to protect Mr. 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.

The Sikh Coalition is grateful to its partners at the ACLU and Alston & Bird for their support, and also to the U.S. Department of Justice for defending Sikh civil rights.  As always, we urge Sikhs everywhere to fearlessly maintain their articles of faith.

"We are so grateful to the Sikh Coalition not only for helping my brother, but also for everything you do for our community.  Sikhs do not have to face discrimination alone; the Sikh Coalition will fight for us."

- Palvinder Kaur (sister)

"The ACLU is very pleased to be working with both the Sikh Coalition and the law firm of Alston & Bird to protect Mr. Basra's right to practice his religion.  It is a fundamental part of our mission to protect religious liberty, and the ACLU is eager to strengthen the relationship with the Sikh Coalition and the Sikh community that we are building through this lawsuit."

- Peter Eliasberg, Legal Director at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California

"Religious liberty is one of America's most fundamental freedoms, and a central principle upon which our nation was founded.  No one should forfeit the basic right to religious expression and identity at the prison gate."

Daniel Mach, Director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief

 

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