ACLU and Sikh Coalition Seek Probe After Sikh Prisoner’s Beard Was Forcibly Shaved at Arizona Prison

Surjit Singh with his wife
Surjit Singh with his wife

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona, the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief (PFRB), the ACLU National Prison Project (NPP), the Sikh Coalition, and WilmerHale LLP, an international law firm, have filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging religious freedom violation of a Sikh prisoner. The complaint urges the Department of Justice to investigate the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) for its egregious infringement.

In a press statement, the ACLU stated that when Surjit Singh entered an Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) facility last year, prison officials trampled his religious beliefs at every turn.

“First, they confiscated his turban, only providing him with a replacement months later after his attorneys arranged for material to be sent to him. Then, claiming they needed a beardless identification photo, correctional officers handcuffed Mr Singh to a chair and forcibly shaved him, even as he cried that he would rather have his throat cut than his beard,” the press statement by ACLU reads.

Sharing further details of Surjit Singh’s harassment, the Sikh Coalition said, “ADCRR officials subsequently threatened to shave him again when his beard grew back beyond the one-inch limitation imposed by their regulations. Officials only relented after Mr Singh’s legal representatives intervened. As explained in the complaint filed with the DOJ, the ADCRR’s treatment of Mr Singh violated his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that provides heightened legal protections for incarcerated individuals’ religious practices.”

“My faith remains deeply important to me, and incarcerated individuals have a right to our faith just like everyone else in this country,” said Surjit Singh, through a statement to his legal representatives. “I am simply asking that the Arizona Department of Corrections guarantee that me and others in my position are able to serve our sentences with dignity by respecting our religious beliefs.”

Our readers can access the statement by the Sikh Coalition here. ACLU’s statement is available here.


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