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California’s Corrections Officers Ordered to Shave Beards Are Backed by US Justice Department

California’s Corrections Officers Ordered to Shave Beards Are Backed by US Justice Department

A California Department of Corrections officer speaks to inmates at Chino State Prison in Chino, Calif., on Dec. 10, 2010. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

3/27/2024

Updated: 3/27/2024

Correctional officers in California last year were required to shave their beards under a revised policy from the state Department of Corrections, which has since denied several requests for religious exemptions, according to a news release by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Justice Department has since requested a temporary court order allowing officers with religious reasons to be exempt from the new policy until an investigation concludes, officials said in a March 25 press release.
“Sikhs, Muslims, and employees of any faith should not be forced to choose between the practice of their faith and their jobs,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarkesaid in the press release.  “As faith communities celebrate Ramadan and other important holidays across religions in the coming weeks, the Justice Department will continue to combat religious discrimination in the workplace.”
The department’s Civil Rights Division is working with California’s District Attorney’s Office to “ensure all individuals of all faiths” can receive religious accommodations in the workplace, according to U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert.
“The action brought today is an important use of the federal civil rights laws to protect this religious expression,” Mr. Talbert said.
The Justice Department filed its request in the U.S. District Court for California’s Eastern District, alleging that many corrections officers worked with facial hair for years without any safety concerns, until last year when the revised policy forced them to shave after they were “repeatedly” denied religious accommodations.
Officers affected have experienced shame and humiliation among their religious communities, according to officials, including being “shunned from houses of worship” or excluded from ceremonies like weddings.
Since the revised policy was implemented, numerous officers have filed religious bias charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Because the investigation is ongoing, the U.S. Justice Department filed its request to temporarily provide relief for the affected officers, officials said.
They further asked the court to mandate that the department of corrections have “good faith discussions” with such officers over possible accommodations that would allow them to perform their jobs while adhering to their religious beliefs, according to the press release.
Employees facing religious discrimination are encouraged to report their complaints to their local equal employment opportunity commission or local fair employment practices agencies, Justice Department officials said. The contact information can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/field-office.
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Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

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Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

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