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February 5, 2013 Off

Religious Accommodation for Sikh Corrections Officer

Last week, respond­ing to appeals by The Sikh Coali­tion and ADL, the Ari­zona Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions agreed to allow a reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion for Ikhbinder Bassin, a ten-year employee of the Depart­ment and an obser­vant Sikh. 

As part of his reli­gious oblig­a­tions, Mr. Bassin does not cut his hair (includ­ing facial hair) and wears a kara (a reli­giously man­dated steel bracelet).  Upon his entry into his posi­tion in 2003, Mr. Bassin was granted a waiver from depart­men­tal pol­icy that pro­hibits the wear­ing of bracelets (other than for med­ical pur­poses) and from shear­ing his hair.  How­ever, in Decem­ber of 2012, close to his 10th anniver­sary, when Mr. Bassin would appar­ently become eli­gi­ble for extended employee ben­e­fits, he was noti­fied by a com­pli­ance offi­cer that he was not in com­pli­ance with Ari­zona Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions pol­icy.  The com­pli­ance offi­cer advised Mr. Bassin that he must com­ply or face pos­si­ble ter­mi­na­tion or reas­sign­ment into a non-uniform position.

Act­ing on Mr. Bassin’s behalf, The Sikh Coali­tion noti­fied the Depart­ment that under fed­eral and state law, includ­ing the First Amend­ment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Arizona’s Free Exer­cise of Reli­gion Act, ter­mi­nat­ing or demot­ing Mr. Bassin for his reli­gious beliefs would vio­late the Department’s oblig­a­tions under the law.

With time run­ning out, and lit­tle indi­ca­tion that his reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion would be granted, Mr. Bassin reached out to ADL and other orga­ni­za­tions to advo­cate that his reli­gious rights be accom­mo­dated.  Fol­low­ing a con­sul­ta­tion with The Sikh Coali­tion, ADL endorsed their efforts, address­ing a let­ter to a vari­ety of Ari­zona gov­ern­ment stake­hold­ers. The League noti­fied these gov­ern­ment offi­cials that we agreed with The Sikh Coalition’s legal analy­sis, and urged a reli­gious accom­mo­da­tion for Mr. Bassin.  ADL’s Ari­zona regional office also signed on to an inter­faith coali­tion let­ter sup­port­ing Mr. Bassin’s request.  These coali­tion efforts paid off.

By grant­ing Mr. Bassin the requested accom­mo­da­tion, the Ari­zona Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions demon­strated a wel­come respect for fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of reli­gious lib­erty. When sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions arise else­where, other Depart­ments should fol­low Arizona’s lead.

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