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California sued over requiring Sikh inmate to cut beard

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Justice Department says the inmate has the right to practice his religion
  • The inmate grooming policy burdened the inmate's religious rights, Justice said
  • "Even those incarcerated" have the right to practice their religions, an attorney says

(CNN) -- 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.

The Justice Department said the suit followed a probe "that revealed that California's inmate grooming policy substantially burdens the rights of an inmate to practice his Sikh faith. "

"The rights guaranteed by the Constitution extend to all people in the United States," said Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. "By protecting those rights -- even for those incarcerated -- we strengthen those rights for all."

The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was also named in the suit.

RLUIPA, which became law in 2000, protects the religious freedom of people "confined to institutions such as prisons, mental health facilities and state-run nursing homes," the Justice Department said.