US civil liberties groups back Sikh rights

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Friday, January 28, 2011

WASHINGTON - A Sikh advocacy group joined by several other civil rights organizations have urged California’s Indian-American Attorney General Kamala Harris not to oppose a bearded Sikh who wants to serve as a prison guard.

Trilochan Singh Oberoi was denied a job as a Corrections Officer in Folsom because of a claim by Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) that he couldn’t be properly fitted for a gas mask unless he shaved.

Harris filed a 22-page motion in Sacramento Superior Court this week saying that religious beliefs are not enough to trump the corrections department ban on prison guards wearing beards.

Oberoi, whose beard is a significant symbol of his Sikh faith, sued the CDCR, claiming his civil rights were violated, according to Sikh Coalition, a community advocacy group.

On Nov 10, 2008, after a two-day trial, the State Personnel Board’s Appeal Division determined that he suffered unlawful workplace discrimination and asked that his job application be considered “forthwith,” it said.

However, more than two years after a final adjudication in Oberoi’s favour, he still does not have a job with CDCR, the Coalition said.

Instead, the Attorney General’s office is seeking dismissal of Oberoi’s case, even though beard exemptions are made for medical reasons, and even though bearded Sikhs now serve with distinction in the United States Army, it said.

In a joint letter to Governor Jerry Brown the coalition and 33 other civil liberties groups said: “We find the California Attorney General’s adversarial posture in this case to be demeaning to religious minorities and utterly inconsistent with your own obligation to defend civil rights for all Californians.”

“Just because someone belongs to a religious minority that is misunderstood by, or frankly just completely unknown to the general public, does not make that person’s conscience any less precious or his dignity any less deserving than the religions that we all know,” said Eric Rassbach of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

Filed under: Religion

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