(New York, New York) April 6, 2006 – As a result of overwhelming activism by Sikhs and non-Sikhs worldwide, the Florida Department of Corrections will allow Satnam Singh to serve his sentence in Vermont, where he will be able to maintain uncut hair and wear his dastaar.
The fight for religious freedom in Florida prisons is not over, however. The regulations that disallow long hair or religious headcoverings must ultimately be changed to accommodate prisoners of faith. The Coalition will continue to work with its partners in Florida to ensure all prisoners are able to keep their hair uncut and are able to cover their heads with religious garb.
Complete Case Background
What Happened – A Time Line of Events
The following is a summary of the action taken by the Sikh Coalition and Sikhs and non-Sikhs from all over the world:
- March 24 –The Sikh Coalition receives a 35 page packet of information from Satnam Singh explaining that he will be transferred to a Florida state prison and that he is fearful his hair will be forcibly cut. The Coalition’s Legal Director reviews the packet and determines that Satnam Singh legitimately is in danger of having his hair forcibly cut.
- March 27 – The Coalition writes to the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and his General Counsel arguing that cutting Satnam Singh’s hair would violate the law.
- March 27 –The Coalition engages local Florida attorney and Treasurer of the Sikh Society of Florida, Arvind Singh, to rally local community support behind Satnam Singh and attempt to find him pro bono legal assistance.
- March 28 – Arvind Singh contacts local civil rights organizations, such as the ACLU, Aleph Institute, Council on American Islamic Relations, and Florida Sikh activists to support Satnam Singh.
- March 29 – The Coalition puts together an online petition that will e-mail the Governor and the Department of Corrections every 100 times it is signed. Coalition requests Sikh organizations all over the world to join the effort.t
- March 29 – The Coalition’s Legal Director speaks to attorneys from the Aleph Institute and the ACLU of Florida to request their assistance.
- March 30 – Over 200 Sikh and non-Sikh organizations around the world respond to Coalition’s request to endorse the campaign to save Satnam Singh’s hair from being cut and his Dastaar from being removed.
- March 30 – The Aleph Institute agrees to formally provide assistance on this matter.
- April 1 – the Coalition sends an advisory to the Sikh community requesting its action to sign the petition and individually e-mail Governor Bush and Secretary McDonough. In over 5 days more than 6,800 people signed the petition.
- April 2 – Arvind Singh and a group of 15 volunteers at the Sikh Society of Florida make a powerpoint presentation to the gurdwara sangat explaining Satnam Singh’s situation and requesting their assistance. The sangat resolves to hold a press briefing at the gurdwara on Tuesday, April 4 and a rally in the state capital on Saturday, April 8.
- April 2-3– Secretary McDonough and Governor Bush receive over 200 individual e-mails from Sikhs and non-Sikhs requesting action to stop Satnam Singh’s hair from being cut.
- April 3 – Secretary McDonough calls the Sikh Coalition to state that his office is taking a series of measures to ensure Satnam Singh’s hair will not but cut by Florida officials or his turban removed. The Secretary contacts Florida officials who are scheduled to receive Satnam and requests that they not cut his hair until his matter is resolved.
- April 3 – Sharee Freeman, Director of the United States Justice Department’s Community Relations Service (CRS) calls the Sikh Coalition to offer her agency’s full support to work with the Sikh community to resolve community tension between Florida state officials and the Sikh community. Local CRS officials contact Arvind Singh to work with him to resolve community tension and the matter.
- April 3 – Former Miami Mayor, Alex Pinellas, called Secretary McDonough to express his concern that Satnam Singh’s hair may be cut.
- April 3 – The office of Florida State Senator Frederica Wilson calls the Coalition office to offer her support.
- April 3 – Department of Corrections attorneys work with the Coalition to find alternatives to having Satnam Singh’s hair cut and his turban removed.
- April 3 – Sikh Society of Miami holds a divaan at the gurdwara and invites press and community leaders to highlight Satnam Singh’s case
- April 3 –Department of Justice, Community Relations Service officials work with Arvind Singh to arrange for a permit for Saturday’s scheduled demonstration in the state capital. CRS also arranges a telephone conference with Arvind Singh and the Florida Commission on Human Relations
- April 3 – The ACLU of Florida agrees to serve as Satnam Singh’s counsel. The law firm of Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP agrees to partner with the ACLU of Florida in order to file an injunction if necessary to stop the state from cutting Satnam Singh’s hair.
- April 3 – The Coalition’s Legal Director receives a call and letter from Secretary McDonough stating that the Department will likely transfer Satnam to an out-of-state prison that will allow him to wear a turban and keep his hair uncut
- April 3 – The Coalition receives confirmation from Secretary’s office that Satnam will serve his sentence in Vermont and that his hair will not be cut and he will be allowed to wear his turban until he is transferred there.
We urge all Sikhs to practice their faith fearlessly. If someone tells you to remove your articles of faith, please report the incident online at Reports.
Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh!
“I am humbled and touched beyond words by the actions of everyone…Let everyone know you shouldn’t be afraid to be a Sikh. There is help out there. The action of the whole community saved my hair from being cut.”
Thank You to All the People, Organizations, and Government Officials Who Took Action
The Coalition would like to thank:
- Florida Department of Corrections Secretary James McDonough for his swift action to prevent Satnam Singh’s hair from being cut. On Monday, April 3, 2006, Secretary McDonough called the Coalition’s Legal Director to tell him that his office was taking swift action to ensure Satnam Singh’s hair would not be cut. Within 3 days the Department was able to arrange for his transfer to Vermont. Please send Secretary McDonough an e-mail thanking him.
- Governor Jeb Bush. The Governor’s office worked with federal officials and the Department of Corrections to resolve this matter. Please send Governor Bush an e-mail thanking him.
- Bob Moore, Legal Affairs Director of the Aleph Institute. Mr. Moore provided legal and advocacy advice from the moment he was contacted a week and a half ago about Satnam’s case. He conducted extensive legal research that he shared with the Sikh Coalition’s Legal Director and offered his advice on legal matters.
- The Sikh Society of Miami and its sangat for organizing a local campaign on behalf of Satnam Singh at a moment’s notice.
- State Senator Frederica Wilson
- Former Miami Mayor Alex Pinelas
- Sharee Freeman, Director, Community Relations Service , United States Department of Justice.
- Eric Treene, Special Counsel on Religious Discrimination, United States Department of Justice
- Thomas Battles, Regional Director, Southeast Regional Office, Community Relations Service, United States Department of Justice.
- The ACLU of Florida for agreeing to serve as Satnam Singh’s co-counsel. The law firm of Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP for agreeing to partner with the ACLU of Florida to serve as Satnam Singh’s counsel.
- The over 200 people who wrote individual e-mails to Governor Bush and Secretary McDonough
- The over 200 organizations that endorsed this campaign
- The over 6,800 people who signed the petition to Governor Bush and Secretary McDonough.