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Federal Government Suing California Over Prison Guard Facial Hair Policy

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The California Department of Corrections requires prison guards to be clean-shaven, and the policy has spurred a lawsuit from the federal government.

The CDCR states that the policy is in place for certain employees who have to wear tight-fitting respirators because beards can interfere with the use of the masks.

The US Justice Department, however, argues that the policy is a form of religious discrimination for groups like Sikhs and Muslims who wear facial hair as a religious expression.

The federal government has filed a civil rights complaint that requests a temporary court order while the CDCR assesses options for providing religious accommodations.

U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert for the Eastern District of California says in a statement, “Our district is one of the most diverse in the country, with communities of many different faiths practicing customs that are central to their beliefs. The action brought today is an important use of the federal civil rights laws to protect this religious expression.”

CDCR has responded that it believes the state agency is in compliance with all laws, that it respects those with different religious beliefs, and strives to accommodate people seeking reasonable accommodations.