Don’t Shoot the Sheriff: An overview of Rastafarians and the Legal System

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Don’t Shoot the Sheriff: An overview of Rastafarians and the Legal System

Rastafarianism is a way of life… for many it is the only way of life. Growing up under a certain religion instills varying values and understandings into one’s moral fiber. These values are what shape a human’s character. In some countries, the government is trying to tell these peaceful people to disregard their upbringing and to conform to alien ways.

Every religious sect has its own traditions and historical rituals that they abide to. In religions, almost everything has significance to it. And anyone concerned about the future of his/her religion, will continue to ensure that these traditions are followed, to preserve their own way of life. Now, most countries have religious freedom clauses in their constitutions that state that anyone living on their soil has the right to practice the religion of their choice. Now this might seem a minuscule fact for someone of a common religion, but to someone of a minority religion, this is all the protection they have from the legal system. This paper is only a taste of the justices and injustices that Rastafarians have faced in legal systems across the globe. Some instances a loophole for the "misfortunate", others an outcry from the oppressed.

Every country’s legal system has problems. Some problems are masked with legal terms. Theses are the hardest to overcome. The "land of the free" is what the United States is sometimes referred to as, but for some, this statement seems phonier than an Ed McMahon sweepstakes.

In the U.S. case, Belgrave vs. Coughlin, an inmate of the Sing-Sing Correctional Institution in New York, claims his religious rights were revoked. Nekyon Belgrave, a Rastafarian, says the Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS" hereinafter) denied his request to wear his religious head covering known as a crown. A crown is a loose-knit, circular hat that covers the wearer’s dreadlocks (Anderson, 1).

Belgrave’s appeal reached the Second Circuit where acting Justice Anthony A. Scaprino Jr. sent the matter back to DOCS saying they overlooked their own regulations denying Belgrave’s request. The matter had already been solved in the precedent of Benjamin vs. Coughlin, 905 F2d 571, where the Second Circuit had agreed with a lower court ruling that denying a Rastafarian’s request to wear a crown did not break the First Amendment, ruling that is was an interest of security (Anderson, 2).

This precedent and an August 8, 1990 memorandum stating that regulations allowed the wearing of certain head-coverings, was enough to send the matter back into the hands of the DOCS.

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