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U.S. sues on behalf of Sikh prison inmate

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SACRAMENTO, March 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. Justice Department sued the state of California on behalf of a Sikh prison inmate, saying forcing him to cut his beard violates his religious rights.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the department said in a release. The law, passed in 2000, forbids religious discrimination against people housed in prisons, mental hospitals and other government institutions as well as discrimination against religious facilities.

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Sukhjinder S. Basra, a Sikh incarcerated in the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo, has been punished for refusing to cut his beard, federal investigators said.

"The rights guaranteed by the Constitution extend to all people in the United States," said Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. "By protecting those rights -- even for those incarcerated -- we strengthen those rights for all."

The suit was filed by the civil rights division.

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