US state California sued over Sikh religious rights

The US Justice Department has sued the state of California for "violating" the right of a Sikh prisoner to practise his religion and punishing him for keeping a beard.

Last Updated: Mar 16, 2011, 13:24 PM IST

Boston: The US Justice Department has sued
the state of California for "violating" the right of a Sikh prisoner to practise his religion and punishing him for keeping a beard.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday against the state of
California, Governor Jerry Brown and the California Department
of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Sukhjinder Basra is being kept at the California Men`s
Colony in San Luis Obispo for a drug offence. Earlier, a
lawsuit had been filed on behalf of Basra, who was subjected
to punishment for maintaining an "unshorn beard in accordance
with the dictates of his religion".

By requiring Basra to cut his beard, California "compels
him to violate his religious beliefs in contravention of the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalised Persons Act
(RLUIPA)," the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department lawsuit follows an investigation
conducted by it, which "revealed that California`s inmate
grooming policy substantially burdens the rights of an inmate
to practise his Sikh faith," it said.

By filing the complaint, the Department seeks to resolve
its investigation and participate in the lawsuit filed on
behalf of Basra, it said.

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

Perez said the Justice Department is committed to
vigorously enforcing RLUIPA to ensure that religious liberty
for all remains protected.
"The rights guaranteed by the Constitution extend to all
people in the United States. By protecting those rights ? even
for those incarcerated ? we strengthen those rights for all,"
US Attorney for the Central District of California Andre
Birotte said.

RLUIPA, which protects the religious freedom of persons
confined to institutions such as prisons, mental health
facilities and state-run nursing homes, was signed into law in
September 2000.
The law also addresses religious discrimination in land
use, and was passed in response to concerns that places of
worship, particularly those of religious and ethnic
minorities, were frequently subjected to discrimination in
zoning matters.

In the 10 years since its passage, RLUIPA has helped
secure the ability of thousands of individuals and
institutions to practise their faiths freely and without
discrimination.

PTI