Bush urged to protect religious rights of Sikh prisoners

November 14th, 2008 - 1:17 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, Nov 14 (IANS) An American Vietnam War veteran, who converted to Sikhism 20 years ago, has asked President George W. Bush to intervene in protecting the religious rights of a Sikh prisoner in Florida whose hair were cut by prison authorities. This is a violation of the First Amendment, Frank Paul Tarney has written in his Nov 12 letter to the president.

Tarney said Jagmohan Singh Ahuja’s hair were forcibly cut by officials of the Duval County Jail in Jacksonville, Florida. Ahuja is serving a three year sentence for misdemeanour violations.

“Hair does not interfere with any routine activity, and poses no danger to the person or anyone he may come in contact with,” Tarney said in his letter to Bush.

Referring to the explanation from prison authorities that the hair were cut in the interest of security, Tarney said: “The idea that contraband can be hidden in the hair and beard is an excuse - not an explanation.”

Stating that no one is questioning Jagmohan’s imprisonment, he said: “However, imprisonment should not entail religious humiliation.”

Tarney in his letter expressed disappointment over the response of the Florida governor.

“I contacted Florida Governor Charlie Crist about this matter and was very disappointed in his response. His office told me that the Duval County Jail’s hair policy is a local matter outside of his purview,” he said.

“This is not a local matter,” Tarney argued.

“It is a violation of our First Amendment right of freedom of religious expression. Of course, certain First Amendment rights are lost when one is in prison, but not freedom of religion.”

In August, United Sikh, an advocacy group of the Sikhs, had submitted a petition to the Florida governor seeking his intervention on the issue and action against those responsible for this gross violation of religious freedom of a Sikh prisoner.

“The cutting of Singh’s hair and removal of his turban has already caused great anguish within the Sikh community, and the repeated violation of Jagmohan’s faith will become the source of great strife within the 25 million members of the Sikh community worldwide and 500,000 Sikhs in the United States,” the petition said.

It will also be cause of great concern for all people concerned with freedom of religion and protection of constitutionally guaranteed rights, the United Sikh argued.

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