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Feds sue Calif. over Sikh inmate beard punishment

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The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 12:08 AM

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the state of California alleging that a Sikh inmate who refused to trim his beard for religious reasons was unfairly disciplined.

Sukhjinder (sook-JIN'-der) Basra has said that guards told him he violated a rule prohibiting inmates from growing facial hair longer than a half inch. As punishment, Basra said he was ordered to perform extra prison duties and spend 10 days confined to his bunk. He said he also lost 30 days of credit for good behavior.

Sikhs are required by their religion to wear unshorn hair wrapped in a turban and a beard.

The Justice Department's lawsuit, which names Gov. Jerry Brown and the state corrections department, follows the department's recent investigation, which found that Basra wasn't allowed to practice his religion in prison. The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act protects the religious freedom of people in mental health facilities, state-run nursing homes and prisons.

Basra is serving time at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo for a drug offense.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a lawsuit on behalf of Basra against the corrections department on similar grounds last month.


© 2011 The Associated Press

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