A Sikh man has filed a federal complaint against the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Re-entry for forcibly shaving off his beard during the prison intake process in August last year. Surjit Singh claimed that the act was in the violation of his religious beliefs.
The federal complaint was filed jointly by the ACLU and the Sikh Coalition with the Department of Justice on behalf of the 64-year-old Sikh man.
Sikh Man Asked to Cut His Throat Instead of Beard
AZ Central reported that in the complaint, it was stated that the authorities had confiscated Singh's "religiously mandated" turban and did not return it. "Corrections officers handcuffed, physically restrained, and — over a period of hours — forcibly shaved (Singh's) beard despite his repeated objections," the complaint read.
Claiming that the 64-year-old had never shaved, cut or removed his hair prior to the unfortunate incident, the complaint stated that after Singh saw fellow prisoners being shaved for identification photos, he informed the correctional officer that he could not shave his beard because of religious beliefs.
However, not only his request was denied, but also was Singh forcibly shaved by the correctional officers.
"At one point, Mr. Singh became distraught and implored the medical staff member to 'cut my throat, but don't cut my beard!'" attorneys for Singh wrote in the complaint.
Prison Officials Threatened to Shave Him Again in October
Singh, who is serving a five-year prison sentence in a Tucson prison, was convicted of reckless manslaughter after a 2017 accident that killed someone when he drove a tractor trailer through a stop sign, New York Post reported.
The outlet further reported that Singh, who was handcuffed by the prison guards and forcibly shaved for several hours, was told that he would be shaved again in October. However, following the intervention of an attorney, Singh could keep his beard.
The complaint also said that Singh, who is not proficient in English, was not provided adequate translation services or documents in his mother tongue. "For example, Mr. Singh did not know that he needed to make a special request to wear a turban or to receive a vegetarian diet in accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs, and he did not understand how to properly file a grievance," said the complaint according to the outlet.
Stating that "the incident caused him deep shame and mental trauma, including severe depression," Cindy Nesbit, an attorney with the coalition, said in a statement. "All people, including those who are currently serving sentences in the criminal justice system, have a constitutionally protected right to the free exercise of their religion."