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California Inmate Sukhjinder Basra Sues State for Threatening Him to Trim His Beard

We take personal freedoms very seriously in California -- as do we our right to sue the shit out of anyone who treads on our land of the free.

To demonstrate, SoCal ACLU lawyers pounced on the religious-freedom case of Sukhjinder Basra -- who's incarcerated at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo for a drug offense -- last month, knowing they had this one in the bag.

And, as of yesterday, the U.S. Justice Department was right behind them with a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court, in which Basra says prison guards punished him for not following the jail's grooming policy -- even though his Sikh faith requires that he maintain a healthy swatch of chin hair.

Because for Sikhs, the shaggy look is of utmost importance (though in Basra's case, just saying no to drugs, apparently, is not):

According to the FAQ section of www.realsikhism.com (thank you Internet), "Hair is a gift from God, therefore why should anyone give it away by cutting it?" The site also points out that hair hoarding can have practical purposes:

"From the scientific point of view, keeping hair is practical because hair has many functions. It traps an insulating layer of still air just outside the skin, and thereby keeping the head cool in summer and warm in winters. Furthermore, hair absorbs harmful ultra violet radiations from the sun and reduces skin cancer. In addition, hair follicles can make androgenic hormones. Axillary hair provides larger surface area for evaporation of sweat."

But from the Justice Department's standpoint, this is a simple matter of California officials infringing upon Basra's basic rights. Specifically, by violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 -- keeping Bibles cot-side since 2009!

The Associated Press details the Sikh inmate's peril:

Sukhjinder (sook-JIN'-der) Basra has said that guards told him he violated a rule prohibiting inmates from growing facial hair longer than a half inch. As punishment, Basra said he was ordered to perform extra prison duties and spend 10 days confined to his bunk. He said he also lost 30 days of credit for good behavior.

"The rights guaranteed by the Constitution extend to all people in the United States,'' said Andre Birotte Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, in a press release. "By protecting those rights -- even for those incarcerated -- we strengthen those rights for all.''

So here's to the republic, and right to keep our facial hairs mangy, for which we stand.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]


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