ACLU Urges Governor Crist to Uphold and Respect Religious Freedom for All Floridians

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
October 10, 2008 12:00 am

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today sent a letter to Governor Charlie Crist urging him to end discrimination in Florida's prisons by accommodating the sacred religious beliefs of inmates. The letter asks Crist specifically to stop the Department of Corrections from continuing to violate inmates' exercise of religion, by amending state regulations to provide religious freedom to everyone. The ACLU hopes that if the state changes its policy, local county jails will follow the example.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons and many other states regularly accommodate prisoners to freely practice their faiths in prison. For Sikhs, accommodations have been granted for unshorn hair, including beards, and the wearing of religious headgear, such as a turban, part of Sikh religious practice. Jagmohan Singh Ahuja, is a practicing Sikh who emigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan to escape religious persecution by the Taliban. He is being held at the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville where officers forcibly cut his hair and removed his headgear. Both actions violate his constitutionally protected religious freedoms granted by state and federal law.

"The sheriff's office cites security concerns as the reason for its policy," said Glenn Katon, Director of the ACLU of Florida's Religious Freedom Project. "But it's hard to understand how uncut hair can pose a serious security threat when the federal prison system and many state prison systems don't have the same requirement."

The ACLU's letter makes clear why Governor Crist must direct Florida's Department of Corrections to amend the Department of Corrections' administrative code to allow inmates to observe their religious practice regarding hair length.

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