Navdeep Singh v. Goord, 5 CV 0680 (S.D.N.Y.)

Nature of Claims: PRP was contacted by the international organization United Sikhs on behalf of the plaintiff, confined at Fishkill Correctional Facility, who alleges that his religious practice has been interfered with by, e.g., refusing to let him wear a kara, a thin metal bracelet, though other religious adherents are permitted comparable objects; disciplining him for religiously based actions such as refusing to shave (Sikhs must grow their beards) and refusing to pick up cigarette butts in his prison job (Sikhs are forbidden to touch tobacco); mistreating his religious books; failing to provide a diet that conforms to the strict vegetarianism required of Sikhs; refusing to let him wear a kacchera, a religious pendant, though prisoners are allowed to wear cross pendants; and other actions. The plaintiff asserts that this treatment violates his rights under the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Current Status: Summary judgment was partially granted and partially denied, and the case is expected to be tried in mid-2009. Mr. Singh was released from prison early in 2009, mooting his demand for an injunction and leaving his damages claims for trial. PRP staff have consulted extensively with pro bono counsel at O’Melveny & Myers on legal and strategic issues and assisted them with litigation documents.

Persons Affected: 1 directly, and a small number of other Sikh prisoners less directly; however, the case may also affect all 65,000 prisoners in the state prison system, in that it presents issues of religious freedom versus security concerns that have been little litigated in New York under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Reported decisions: Singh v. Goord, 520 F. Supp.2d 487 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (partially granting and partially denying summary judgment)..