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Press Release

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against the State of California for Violating Inmate’s Right to Practice His Religion

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON– The Justice Department filed a lawsuit today against the state of California, Governor Jerry Brown and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for violating the right of an inmate to practice his religion.  The lawsuit follows a Justice Department investigation that revealed that California’s inmate grooming policy substantially burdens the rights of an inmate to practice his Sikh faith. 


By filing the complaint, the department seeks to resolve its investigation and participate in a lawsuit filed recently on behalf of the inmate, who has been subjected to punishment for maintaining an unshorn beard in accordance with the dictates of his religion.  By requiring the inmate, Sukhjinder S. Basra, to cut his beard, California compels him to violate his religious beliefs in contravention of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  Basra is housed at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“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,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Department of Justice is committed to vigorously enforcing RLUIPA to ensure that religious liberty for all remains protected.”  

 “The rights guaranteed by the Constitution extend to all people in the United States,” said André Birotte Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.  “By protecting those rights – even for those incarcerated – we strengthen those rights for all.”

RLUIPA, which protects the religious freedom of persons confined to institutions such as prisons, mental health facilities and state-run nursing homes, was enacted by both houses of Congress unanimously and signed into law on Sept. 22, 2000.   The law also addresses religious discrimination in land use, and was passed in response to concerns that places of worship, particularly those of religious and ethnic minorities, were frequently subjected to discrimination in zoning matters.  In the 10 years since its passage, RLUIPA has helped secure the ability of thousands of individuals and institutions to practice their faiths freely and without discrimination.

More information on the Civil Rights Division’s efforts to combat religious discrimination may be found at .

Updated September 15, 2014

Press Release Number: 11-334