11 September 2008


I cannot believe that the abuse of this brother continues. I have no sympathy for his crime - domestic battery, wife beating - but this sort of treatment is nothing short of torture. I know in the past that at least one keshdhari prisoner from Florida was transfered to another state. Could that not be done here?

When I was a child, my kesh was forcibly cut by my own mother and I have never totally recovered from that.


When I think of the forcible cutting of kesh, I think of this picture from 1984.

Here is the latest from United Sikhs:

Press Release: 11th Sep 2008, Thursday 27th Bhadon (Samvat 540 Nanakshahi )

Florida Jail Refuses to Budge on Discriminatory Prison Policy
Sikh Inmate’s Religious Rights Severely Violated
Join Us in Our Worldwide Signature Campaign.

Jacksonville, Florida, USA: The fight for Sikh prisoner Jagmohan Singh Ahuja's right to keep his kesh (unshorn hair) in prison continues after Duval County Jail officials refused to change discriminatory prison policies to accommodate a Sikh’s religious beliefs within the Jail. It is against Sikh religious practice to cut one’s hair, as kesh (unshorn hair) covered by a dastaar (Sikh turban) is one of five articles of faith which a Sikh must keep at all times. UNITED SIKHS, co-sponsoring organizations, and concerned lawyers have been actively advocating for Jagmohan's religious rights, contacting and writing Governor of Florida Charlie Crist, Mayor John Peyton of Jacksonville/Duval County, Florida State Representatives, the Duval County Sheriff's Department (in charge of the jail), and various federal, state, and local governmental officials.

Even though the Federal Bureau of Prisons and other states accommodate kesh (unshorn hair) covered by a dastaar (Sikh turban), Duval County Jail and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office have taken strong positions against accommodation. Commenting on the possibility of accommodation, Lauri-Ellen Smith, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office stated, "we cannot do so if the religious practices compromise the security and safety of the correctional facilities…As such, it is required that all sentenced inmates have short hair and not wear head coverings, in order to prevent hiding contraband and/or weapons."

UNITED SIKHS is committed to using all avenues to change Florida's discriminatory prison policy for members of all faiths who keep religiously mandated lengthy hair or beards, whether Sikh, Jewish, Muslim, Rastafarian, or Native American.

We urge all who value civil liberties to unite in the bid to overturn this discriminatory policy and stop the violation of Jagmohan's religious beliefs.

here to sign the petition.
Assistant Chief Redman of Duval County Jail declared the Jail's position stating, "We're well within our rights to cut his hair, and we will continue to do so." Officials did not comment as to why it was possible to accommodate kesh and dastaar in Federal prisons and several other state jails but not in Florida.

Commenting on the jail's position UNITED SIKHS Staff Attorney Jaspreet Singh stated, "we are very concerned that Jagmohan's hair will be cut again in the near future. It is deeply disturbing that the jail would refuse to make any accommodation where examples exist in other ostensibly more secure prisons. The poignant irony of Jagmohan's escape from religious persecution in Afghanistan to now facing it in America should strike a deep chord in any citizen concerned with protecting religious freedom in America." Arvind Singh, a Florida attorney and member of UNITED SIKHS' legal team added, "We [Sikh Americans] are very concerned with the state of our union when a person's inalienable rights are not protected as our founding fathers directed."

UNITED SIKHS is working aggressively on a possible in court solution as well, but the current law on the issue is not favorable to Jagmohan's position and it will be a difficult legal battle. Our legal team is working with various partner organizations and attorneys to research and overcome these legal hurdles, and have been in regular discussion with the Glenn Katon of the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida who has been actively researching and assessing the problematic legal issues in the case. Katon describes the case as one that presents serious difficulties, but states that he is "not convinced that this is un-winnable." Katon further expressed that, "the ACLU is very concerned about this important issue and would like to be on the forefront of changing Florida's discriminatory policy."

Despite the excellent initial response to the petition with 2200+ signatories online and 300+ on the ground in Florida, we need more concerned individuals to stand up for Jagmohan's rights and the rights of all prisoners suffering religious discrimination in prison.

UNITED SIKHS is committed to using all avenues to change Florida's discriminatory prison policy for members of all faiths who keep religiously mandated lengthy hair or beards, whether Sikh, Jewish, Muslim, Rastafarian, or Native American. We urge all who value civil liberties to unite in the bid to overturn this discriminatory policy and stop the violation of Jagmohan's religious beliefs. Jagmohan needs your help to continue to increase pressure on the Governor of Florida and Mayor of Jacksonville to change these discriminatory policies.

Print out copies of the petition and take them to your place of worship, workplace, or community center and collect signatures for Jagmohan. Once you've collected the signatures, you can submit a statement verifying your collection of signatures by clicking
here or by visiting http://www.unitedsikhs.org/.

You may also sign the petition online and send it to your friends by clicking here.

You may read a previous press release on a discrimination case assisted by UNITED SIKHS at:

Issued By :
Jaspreet Singh
Staff Attorney
International Civil & Human Rights Advocacy (ICHRA) Project
Email: law@unitedsikhs.org

As a not-for-profit organization, UNITED SIKHS relies on individuals like you to support our advocacy and education programs. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting
http://unitedsikhs.org/donate.php. Call 1-888-243-1690 for more information.

Notes to Editor:

1. The Federal Bureau of Prisons was established in 1930 to provide more progressive and humane care for Federal inmates, to professionalize the prison service, and to ensure consistent and centralized administration. Today, the Bureau consists of 114 institutions, 6 regional offices, a Central Office (headquarters), 2 staff training centers, and 28 community corrections offices. The Bureau is responsible for the custody and care of more than 201,000 Federal offenders.

Statement from United Sikhs

Our Mission

To transform underprivileged and minority communities and individuals into informed and vibrant members of society through civic, educational and personal development programs, by fostering active participation in social and economic activity.

UNITED SIKHS is also an avenue for networking between like-minded organisations to establish and nurture meaningful projects and dialogues - whether social, cultural or political- to promote harmony, understanding and reciprocity in our villages, towns and cities.

UNITED SIKHS is a coalition of organisations and individuals, who share a common vision based on the belief that there is no greater endeavour than to serve, empower and uplift fellow beings. The core of our philosophy is an unwavering commitment to civic service and social progress on behalf of the common good.

Accordingly, UNITED SIKHS has sought to fulfil its mission not only by informing, educating and uplifting fellow beings but also by participating in cross-cultural and political exchanges to ensure that the promises and benefits of democracy are realized by all.

We at UNITED SIKHS believe that the development of enlightened and progressive societies can be made possible by socially conscious groups of people who make a commitment to develop and direct human potential. Our work, efforts and achievements stand as a testament to our faith in this vision.

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