On or about July 1, 2008, Sikh prisoner Jagmohan Singh Ahuja suffered an egregious violation of his religious rights when jail officers forcibly cut his hair in Duval County Jail. It is against a Sikh’s religious practice to cut his/her 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. Jagmohan was recently informed by prison officials that his hair will be cut again, and he immediately contacted UNITED SIKHS to help stop the continued gross violation of his dearly held religious beliefs.
When Jagmohan Singh initially became aware that it was possible his religious rights might be violated, his hair would be forcibly cut by the jail, he requested his public defender to file a motion with the Duval County Circuit Court. In the motion, Jagmohan asked the public defender to present evidence of the significance of kesh (unshorn hair) for Sikhs. The motion was denied by Judge Russell Healey. Jagmohan again protested the cutting of his hair on the day of the incident when the correctional officers at the jail informed him his hair would be cut, by force if necessary. After officers contacted the Circuit Court Clerk for guidance on the matter, Jagmohan’s hair was cut.
Click here to sign the Petition to stop a repeated violation of Jagmohan Singh’s religious beliefs and to change prison regulations to stop Florida prisons from violating the rights of Sikh prisoners.
“Despite my opposition, my hair and beard were cut even after I made clear my religious beliefs and traditions. This was very traumatic to me especially because I came to the States in an attempt to avoid religious persecution.” – Jagmohan Singh
Jagmohan Singh’s mother, who resides in England, contacted UNITED SIKHS office in London about her son’s case. She had received correspondence from Jagmohan stating that he had become severely depressed since his hair was cut, and that he did not recognize himself in the mirror. The sad irony about Jagmohan Singh’s situation is that he narrowly escaped religious persecution under the Taliban in Afghanistan, where Sikhs were not allowed to practice their religion freely under the tyrannical regime. Jagmohan fled to America in 2001 on the basis of religious persecution, only to have his dearest of religious rights violated while serving a sentence for a misdemeanor offense.
Jagmohan Singh wrote to UNITED SIKHS stating, “Despite my opposition, my hair and beard were cut even after I made clear my religious beliefs and traditions. This has been very traumatic to me especially because I came to the United States in an attempt to avoid religious persecution.”
The law in Florida is not favorable to Jagmohan Singh’s position. Though the Bureau of Federal Prisons and many states allow the keeping of religiously mandated head-dress, long hair, and beards in prison, current Florida prison regulations allow no such religious exemption or exception on the basis of security concerns. These regulations have been repeatedly upheld by Florida courts.
Commenting on the violation of Jagmohan Singh’s religious tenets, UNITED SIKHS Staff Attorney Jaspreet Singh stated, “It is appalling that a Sikh who narrowly escaped religious persecution abroad and immigrated on the basis of religious asylum has suffered the gravest of religious persecution in America, the bastion of religious freedom. In view of federal and other state prison regulations allowing these most basic of religious practices, it is outrageous that Florida regulations do not allow these practices on the basis of security.”
UNITED SIKHS’ legal team and religious liberties experts are diligently working on this case, but we need your assistance. Your signatures can make the biggest difference to persuade Florida government officials to take action. UNITED SIKHS calls on all concerned individuals and organizations to sign the petition to save Jagmohan Singh from further trauma and humiliation, and to change the discriminatory Florida prison regulations.
Please post the petition at your offices, community centers, Gurdwaras, and other places of worship, and circulate the petition to your friends, family and other people concerned with religious freedom in the United States.
You may read a previous press release on a discrimination case assisted by UNITED SIKHS at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-01-08-2008-00.html
You may sign the petition at: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/petitions/jagmohan