US state California sued over Sikh religious rights

Boston, March 16 (PTI): 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.