As I wrote about three months ago, the United States Department of Justice filed a legal suit against the State of California for violating the civil rights of Sikh inmate Sukhjinder Singh Basra – a Canadian citizen serving time for a drug-related offense – at a state prison in San Luis Obispo. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was enforcing a policy that required inmates to shave their facial hair. As uncut hair is a religious article of faith for Sikhs, the CDCR was violating Sukhjinder Singh’s right to freedom of religion. The Sikh Coalition, in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), filed a second lawsuit against the CDCR in April.
Today, the Sikh Coalition announced that the CDCR has agreed to a settlement that:
…protects inmates of all faiths who maintain religiously-mandated beards. Under its terms, CDCR will repeal a rule prohibiting inmates from growing facial hair more than a half inch in length. In addition, Mr. Basra’s disciplinary record for refusing to cut his beard will be expunged…
The State of California will also be responsible for Sukhjinder Singh’s legal costs. Further, under the terms of the settlement, Sukhjinder Singh will also be permitted to cover his head using a pre-approved patka (smaller Sikh traditional headcovering).
While it is disappointing to see a fellow Sikh in the place that he is, this case is a testament to the dedication to the founding principles of this country in that Sukhjinder Singh’s religious rights were legally protected. In that sense, this is a victory for all Americans.