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Religious Group Protests Jail Policy on Hair
Jennifer Lindgren
Oct 10 , 2008


JACKSONVILLE, FL -- A Duval County Jail policy that requires inmates' hair to be cut has sparked outrage among Sikhs, who say the policy violates their freedom to practice religion.

Protesting outside the Duval County Jail Sunday, men and women carried signs alleging discrimination and violations of religious freedom.

The group protests on behalf of Jagmohan Ahuja, an inmate in the jail who is a practicing Sikh.

Prosecutors say Ahuja is behind bars for a reason.

Convicted of domestic violence against two women in his family, Ahuja is three months into serving a three year jail sentence.

But Ahuja's supporters say it's his rights as an inmate that have been violated.

Jaspreet Singh, a lawyer for United Sikhs, says it is against Sikh religious practice to cut one's hair. Hair covered by a turban is one of the five articles of faith which a Sikh must keep at all times.

Singh spoke on behalf of protestors, along with a local representative of the ACLU.

"We would like the jail to change the policy on the issue. We would like the jail to stop shaving prisoners where it violates their constitutionally guaranteed religious rights," Singh said.

Ahuja, 36, was arrested in April on misdemeanor charges of violating probation and violating an injuction for protection against domestic violence.

Ahuja is appealing his conviction.

His supporters in the community say Ahuja has been forced to have his haircut twice since his incarceration, and that the policy violates the religious rights of other religious peoples as well, including Orthodox Jews, Rastafarians, Muslims and Native Americans.

"We're Americans, we love this country, and we want our religious rights to be protested," Singh said.

Howard Maltz, Deputy General Council for the City of Jacksonville, has this statement in response to the accusations:

"The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is committed to respecting and accommodating the religious beliefs and practices of all our inmate population. However, when an inmate's religious practices compromise the safety and security of our corrections facilities, safety and security must take precedence.

"The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has a long-standing policy that mandates sentenced male inmates have short hair and wear no coverings. This policy is consistent with that of many other correctional facilities throughout Florida and the United States.

"This policy has been determined by courts to be lawful.

"While we fully respect the involved inmate's religious beliefs, the safety and security of our correctional facility must prevail."

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