Governor Approves Senator Dave Cortese’s Bill Protecting Inmate Religious Practices

Incarcerated people across California have new religious protections following Governor Newsom’s approval of legislation by Senator Dave Cortese announced this past weekedn.;

Senate Bill (SB) 309 sets clear rules about religious clothing, headwear, and grooming for people being booked into prison or jail. The law 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. Maintenance of free exercise rights among incarcerated people also reduces the chances of recidivism.

“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,” said Senator Cortese (D-San Jose). “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 turban, you will keep your civil liberties and First Amendment rights even while serving time.”

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. “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 Governor 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.”

SB 309 establishes a uniform and officially documented policy applicable to both state and local correctional and detention facilities. This law 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. Moreover, the law mandates that detention facilities must permit individuals to maintain their hair or beards for religious reasons.