CA Governor Signs Law Expanding Religious Rights of Incarcerated

By The Vanguard Staff

SACRAMENTO, CA – A legislative measure to give incarcerated people in California new religious protections was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this weekend, according to the bill’s author, Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose).

Cortese’s office said SB 309 “sets clear rules about religious clothing, headwear, and grooming for people being booked into prison or jail. (It) follows research that shows when inmates can practice their spiritual tradition while in detention, they’re less likely to be violent or engage in other negative behaviors,” adding, “free exercise rights among incarcerated people also reduces the chances of recidivism.”

Cortese said, “Freedom of religious expression doesn’t only exist outside of prison walls. Never again in California should someone be stripped of their religion while they are booked into a detention facility.”

The lawmaker added, “Free expression is a First Amendment right, and an important component to rehabilitation and redemption. Regardless of whether you’re a Muslim person donning a hijab, a Jewish individual wearing a yarmulke, or a Sikh person wearing a turban, you will keep your civil liberties and First Amendment rights even while serving time.”

The legislation will, according to the author, establish a “uniform and officially documented policy applicable to both state and local correctional and detention facilities…ensures that individuals with religious affiliations can retain their personal religious attire or head coverings until they have the opportunity to purchase or access similar garments provided by the facility itself (and) mandates that detention facilities must permit individuals to maintain their hair or beards for religious reasons.”

SB 309 is sponsored by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and co-sponsored by the Tayba Foundation.

“Over the years, CAIR-CA has represented and heard from numerous Muslims across the state who have been deprived of access to religious garments and grooming while detained. CAIR-CA found this problem had grown into a pattern birthed from the lack of a statewide, uniform policy and resolved to tackle the issue at its root,” said Nazeehah Khan, CAIR-California’s Policy & Government Affairs Manager. 

Khan added, “Religious expression is not only a civil right — but an inherent, human right. Religious clothing, headwear, and grooming are not just parts of a person’s appearance, they are parts of a person’s identity and personhood. We are elated to see Gov. Newsom extend that liberty to all walks of life with the enactment of SB 309. 

“We profusely thank Senator Cortese and his staff for their tireless support in championing our legislation and Assemblymembers Reyes and Kalra for their dedication to ensuring civil liberties for all Californians. Together we take strides towards creating a California which ensures civil liberties and dignity for all.”

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