Statement from United SikhsPress Release: 11th Sep 2008, Thursday 27th Bhadon (Samvat 540 Nanakshahi )
Florida Jail Refuses to Budge on Discriminatory Prison PolicySikh Inmate’s Religious Rights Severely Violated
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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.
Click 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: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-27-08-2008-00.html
Issued By :
International Civil & Human Rights Advocacy (ICHRA) Project
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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.
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