May 14, 2024 (Trenton, New Jersey) – Yesterday, Roshan D. Shah of Anderson & Shah Law, in collaboration with the Sikh Coalition and Harvard Law School’s Religious Freedom Clinic, filed a federal complaint against the United States of America; Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters, in her official capacity, and several specific corrections officers.The complaint was filed on behalf of Mr. Prabhjot Singh, an incarcerated Sikh man who has been subjected to discriminatory and abusive treatment because of his faith.

In March 2022, Mr. Singh was arrested in Howell, Michigan, pleaded guilty to a nonviolent drug possession offense, and was sentenced to a federal prison term of 48 months. In January 2023, after several transfers, he was moved to the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Since his incarceration began, Mr. Singh has maintained a perfect disciplinary record.

At Fort Dix, a group of federal corrections officers have refused to properly accommodate Mr. Singh’s Sikh dietary restrictions or provide him with medically necessary care. Moreover, prison officials openly mock and ridicule Mr. Singh’s religious practices and treat his articles of faith with profound disrespect. In one particularly egregious incident, officers destroyed Mr. Singh’s dastaar, first trampling it under their boots and smearing it with spilled paint, and then tossing it in the trash in a restricted area. Officers also desecrated a second dastaar and Mr. Singh’s copy of the Guru Granth Sahib.

“The actions of these corrections officers are as cruel to Mr. Singh as they are disrespectful to all Sikhs,” said Marissa Rossetti, Sikh Coalition Staff Attorney. “All individuals, incarcerated or not, are entitled to the practice of their religion, and no one should suffer such indignities against their articles of faith—especially from a representative of the federal government.”

In the complaint, Mr. Singh is seeking damages and relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Federal Torts Claim Act. He also brings an Eighth Amendment claim due to the denial of adequate food and medically necessary care. In short, Mr. Singh has been needlessly suffering from severe emotional distress and physical injury because of the officers’ illegal conduct—which the Bureau of Prisons failed to prevent. He hopes that by filing this lawsuit, he might spare future inmates from similar trauma.

“Federal law protects the right to freedom of religion for all Americans, including incarcerated individuals,” explained Professor Josh McDaniel of the Harvard Religious Freedom Clinic. “Those protections are meant to ensure against exactly the kind of treatment that Mr. Singh is being forced to endure. Accountability in this case is essential, both for Mr. Singh’s sake and the sake of other individuals who may be incarcerated at Fort Dix in the future.”

The Sikh Coalition is grateful to our partners at the Harvard Religious Freedom Clinic and Roshan D. Shah of Anderson & Shah Law for their work on this case. Ensuring that all Sikhs in the United States, incarcerated or not, are safe to practice their faith freely remains an essential part of the Sikh Coalition legal team’s portfolio. We have pursued numerous such cases in the past, including fighting for the religious rights of Sikh prisoners in Arizona in 2021 and Florida in 2006; we settled a broader lawsuit in California in 2011 against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which allowed incarcerated individuals to maintain their kesh.

As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.