Alston & Bird LLP has earned the 2011 Religious Freedom Award from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Southern California for its outstanding pro bono work on the case, Sukhjinder S. Basra v. Matthew Cate, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. As part of the settlement of that case, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) will amend its grooming policies to allow inmates to maintain beards in accordance with their faith. The award was presented during the organization’s 17th Annual ACLU Foundation Law Luncheon held yesterday at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in Los Angeles.
"Alston & Bird was pleased to assist the ACLU in this important case to protect religious freedom in the California prison system. This settlement, approved by the court, will protect not just the right of one individual to practice his faith while in prison, but the rights of those to follow,” said Jonathan Gordon, Alston & Bird Los Angeles partner and lead counsel on the case for the firm. “By partnering on a pro bono basis with organizations like the ACLU, Alston & Bird can leverage resources to support worthy causes like this case."
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of inmate Sukhjinder S. Basra, who had been punished for refusing to trim his beard on religious grounds. Keeping unshorn hair is one of the central tenets of the Sikh faith. The lawsuit was filed after Basra, an otherwise model inmate, was denied visitation rights and other privileges for not trimming his beard in accordance with the CDCR’s grooming regulation.
Leib Lerner and Cassandra Hooks, associates in Alston & Bird’s Los Angeles office, assisted in the case.
Alston & Bird’s pro bono and community efforts are a cornerstone of the firm, which is a founding member of the Pro Bono Institute, a non-profit organization that provides research, consultative services, analysis and assessment, publications and training to a broad range of legal audiences. In addition to organizing pro bono activities and participating in charity events, the firm’s attorneys have provided leadership on the boards of a number of community organizations.
“Alston & Bird has a long and rich tradition of both using our skills as legal professionals to represent those who would not otherwise have access to the legal system and investing in our communities through service and volunteerism,” said Richard Hays, managing partner of Alston & Bird. “Our dedication to such causes befits the importance of providing quality pro bono legal and community service, and we are proud to recognize those among us who engage in these efforts.”