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March 16th, 2011
10:24 AM ET

California sued over requiring Sikh inmate to cut beard

The U.S. Justice Department is suing the state of California and Gov. Jerry Brown because prison authorities required a Sikh prison inmate to cut his beard.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday on behalf of Sukhjinder Basra, an inmate at prison in San Luis Obispo in central California.

It said that the requirement violated the man's right "to practice his religion" under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLIUPA).

In the Sikh religion, which originated in northwestern India, unshorn hair is an article of faith.

Read the full story
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: California • Church and state • Sikh

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. GSA

    @Frederica – maybe this Sikh will find Jesus in jail, I heard Jesus loves to frequent there on his vacations, haha i'm just messing. Seriously, it's ppl like you @Frederica that make ppl run from Jesus. Have a nice life.

    March 18, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  2. Frederica

    CNN, can't you feature on the world's prison condition? And what kind of people are considered as criminals in each nation?

    March 18, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  3. Frederica

    Sikhs must find Jesus as their ONLY Savior. Jesus is the ONLY WAY for salvation.

    March 18, 2011 at 12:30 am |
    • withoutgod

      saved from what? The only thing people need saving from is the self-deception and ignorance spawned by religion. If I recall right, the Native American's were "saved" by Jesus in the form of violence, death, and destruction of their way of life. But of course, blind ignorance is SO much easier than critical thinking.

      March 19, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  4. GSA

    I am a Sikh but I agree with the State on this one. He did the crime and he must follow all the prison rules, end of story. The fact that he will get exercise time, library time and 3 square meals is already enough rights for him.

    March 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  5. Angela

    My religion prohibits me from being restrained or caged in any way, so it's against my religion for the courts to put me in jail. If they try I'll sue, and then I'll be rich AND free.

    Since you give up your right to freedom when you break the law, maybe you should give up your right to insist on your stupid religious restrictions as well.

    Security comes before religion – on planes, in jail, wherever.

    March 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  6. syal

    All criminals deserve punishment.But then all criminals are human and have basic rights even if they are imprisoned criminals.The freedom and right to worship and not have religious symbols denied/abused is NOT on.Non criminals/'innocent'people are NOT all practising their faiths (which is OK) so at least those humans who are practising their faith (partly or otherwise)they must not be violated by the authorities,otherwise there will be no difference between criminals and the state.I do believe that GITMO was not a typical US penitentiary.

    March 17, 2011 at 6:50 am |
  7. gen81465

    Perhaps I should start a new religion, where part of my "belief structure" is that I cannot be held accountable to the laws of man, and cannot ever be arrested, held captive or imprisoned. Then I can do whatever I want in California, and no one can do anything about it.

    March 17, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • Angela

      Agree 100%.
      Strange that the solution to the out of control "religious tolerance" would be starting more religions, but it's only going to get worse before it gets better.
      I'll join your new religion if we can add in the rule that you are allowed to shout "bomb" or "fire" wherever and whenever we like. If people can act like terrorists on planes in the name of religion then I don't see why we can't do that as well.
      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/15/airline-apologizes-for-plane-prayer-scare/?iref=obnetwork

      March 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  8. Ron

    Imo, when you go to prison, you give up your rights, plain and simple. I agree that all people in prison should be treated humanly but the rest of their rights are gone, religious or other wise.

    March 16, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  9. TheRationale

    How about no special treatment. That's fair.

    March 16, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  10. Exiled Angel

    Why does it matter? My understanding of prison was that you no longer had rights, you are there as a punishment for crimes that you have committed. Don't want to deal with people standing over you night and day telling you to shave, when to sleep, when to eat then don't commit crimes! WAH, they made me cut off my beard! Well guess what? Whatever crime you committed to get there probably put someone else in a position they didn't want to be in either! It is interesting that they leave out what crime he committed to get there in the first place. Cant sway peoples opinion on freedom of religion when your symbol is actually a murderer or rapist.

    March 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • syal

      Prison is where you do time for the crime but you are not 'abused'.Criminals (who incidently are human)do have basic rights and this includes the right to worship and retention of their religious symbols(non-weaponry).Prisons are NOT the totrure chambers as during the INQUISITION.

      March 17, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • Tim

      No rights? Cool! How about the death penatly for jaywalking? How about hard labor for a parking ticket?

      March 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  11. virginia

    Oh yeah, and they owe the state the cost of their stay as well. No interest, over 10 years upon discharge plus give them any credit (minimum wage) they accrued from the work they produced while doing hard labor. Hell, they may actually learn a a trade while in prison they can do for a living when they get out.

    March 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      sharia sounds better. you chop their hand off, and they are on the dole for the rest of their life. forget learning any trade and contributing back to society.

      March 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • syal

      I wholly agree with you on learning a trade and bettering oneself on completing prison term.But prisoners do have basic human rights because they are human(just like everyone else).Prisons are no longer the torture chambers of the inquisition era or those of countries ruled by tyrants like Ghaddafi and the late saddam husein.

      March 17, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  12. virginia

    I had the opinion that prisoners don't have rights like free citizens do. There should be nothing but hard labor and then locked in their cell. No TV, computers etc. Now, I believe they have the right to be shaved bald as well. Then made to do hard labor and then back in their cell. IT"S PRISON!!! If you don't like it, don't go there.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Tim

      As far as Hard labor goes, it is unwise to make it profitable to put people in prison. Louisiana has had that problem for decades where they framed and locked up innocents to work on many warden-owned enterprises. When it becomes profitable to lock up people, innocents will be locked up.

      March 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  13. Reality

    Why the ban on fa-cial ha-ir?

    "California corrections officials imposed the ban on long hair or fa-cial hair on male prisoners in 1997, the year an inmate shaved his beard and walked out, unrecognized, from a San Diego County prison. But in the coming weeks, a federal lawsuit filed by Muslim prisoners in Solano may force the state to allow inmates to grow beards, if it's part of their religious custom.

    Security Issue

    The prospect frightens prison guards, who say the ability to tell who's who can be a matter of life and death in a maximum-security lockup. But inmate advocates say the change would restore one of the many prisoner privileges lost since the tough-on-crime 1990s, when California corrections officials tightened rules on visitation, exercise, clothing and hairstyles.

    "This would be an important step toward recognizing that people in prison do retain certain const-itutional rights," said attorney Steve Fama of the nonprofit Prison Law Office in San Rafael.

    The challenge to the beard ban, which is under review by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, contends that it violates prisoners' 1st Amendment right to exercise their religion. But because prison officials say long beards can hide weapons and drugs, the lawsuit calls for facial hair only a half-inch long or less, said Susan Christian, the attorney for the inmates."

    March 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • happy hippie

      Wait until its your religions turn and for some reason you can't pray to Jesus because it undermines wardens autority. Anyone can end up in prison, just be careful because society throws stones. Already people had to live like s**t, when they have already locked up, then they can't get a job because of a piece of paper that says felon, great rehabilitation techniques, America.

      March 17, 2011 at 1:14 am |
  14. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    sikhs! those hairy turbaned beings. ha ha ha ha.
    I remember those. the joke was that in winter of 2001, american hicks in new york started abusing the sikhs living there, thinking they were moslem terrorists! find me something dumber than an american and i will find you a peaceful moslem.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • syal

      (B)iraq Hussein Osama- You are a sick and insensitive 'person'.If you find the attacks on innocent Sikhs post-9/11 funny perhaps you should emigrate to holy and pure SAUDI ARABIA.If you are indeed an american (Paki illegal immigrant most likely)you have not left your mentality you were born with.In that case I can understand your 'delight'at the assault on those Sikhs-Sikhs were and are still the 'scourge' of islam in that the Sikhs did not let islam spread west of the Indian subcontinent.Shame on you LOOSER.

      March 17, 2011 at 7:51 am |
  15. CW

    Well well well,

    One thing that California did right was vote down the G-'ay marriage bill but, most of the time its the left coast. Seems that the left coast is getting some of it liberal views thrown back at them.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Biffy Tarkenson

      Well that was totally off-topic and made virtually no sense.

      March 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Ron

      That's ok CW, SSM WILL be a reality in all 50 states. And then," liberty and justice for all" will come a little closer to being true.

      March 16, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Jagjeet Kaur Khalsa

      This makes no sense whatsoever. How would you feel if the most basic rights and privileges are suddenly not there tomorrow. I am sure there would be an outcry about not having them. We are lucky in this country to have the freedom to discuss and enact change. It is not so in many countries. I respectfully ask that you please avoid labels. They are polarizing and stifle open discussion.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  16. JohnQuest

    If prisons were less like hotels maybe we would have less prisoners, just a thought.

    March 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      you mean if you implemented sharia law instead of prison-hostel retreats.

      March 16, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Nonimus

      You must be used to the Hotel California where "You can check out any time you like but you can never leave."

      March 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.