Several civil rights organizations Tuesday defended Trilochan Oberoi's refusal to shave his beard for a corrections job.
They challenged California Attorney General Kamala Harris' recent motion claiming the state hasn't violated Oberoi's rights by compelling him to shave his beard – a significant symbol of his Sikh religion.
Oberoi, a former commander in the Indian navy now living in Folsom, has sued the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for failing to let him become a prison guard unless he shaved his beard.
Corrections claimed that Oberoi couldn't be properly fitted for a gas mask unless he shaved, a position now supported by Harris.
Veena Dubal of the Asian Law Caucus, who joined Tuesday's news conference in San Francisco, said that by backing the CDCR's decision to compel Oberoi to shave, Harris "is threatening to undermine the civil rights of Mr. Oberoi, and by extension, other American communities of faith."
Oberoi's attorney, Harmeet K. Dhillon, said 32 civil rights organizations – including Jewish, Muslim and constitution-rights groups – signed a letter Tuesday asking Gov. Jerry Brown to follow federal law.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, then on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled in 1999 that a New Jersey fire department was required to accommodate Muslim firefighters who wore beards for religious reasons, Dhillon said.
The CDCR grants medical exemptions to accommodate African American men who can't shave their beards for medical reasons, Dhillon said. "If you're a black guy with bad skin you get an exemption, if you're a Sikh who follows your religion you don't."
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