Cecil Koger
Cecil Koger, 35 Ohio Department of Rehabilition and Correction

A prisoner in Ohio is claiming that his civil rights were violated when Ohio's corrections department forcibly cut his dreadlocks numerous times, according to a new lawsuit. Cecil Koger, the inmate on whose behalf the suit was filed, reportedly said that the incidents violate his right to practice as a Rastafarian.

The lawsuit, filed last week and seen by the Associated Press, says that the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction had cut Koger's dreadlocks forcibly five times as they are banned under prison regulations. One incident included Koger being subdued using a chemical spray and shackled, the lawsuit said.

The suit is attempting to have Rastafarianism recognised as a religion by the corrections system and the cutting of Koger's hair to be declared illegal. Along with the recognition, the suit would allow Rastafarians to be served their vegetarian diet called 'ital' and given access to religious texts.

Written by Case Western Reserve University law professor, Avidan Cover, the lawsuit says that the cutting of Koger's hair steals "part of his identity, as his dreadlocks served as a reminder of his faith and devotion to the natural world".

Rastafari beliefs came out of Jamaica in the 1930s and are partly based on a particular reading of the Bible. The former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie is a central figure in the religion, thought by some practicioners to be the second coming of Christ and by others as a religious prophet.

Koger's suit alleges that the department of corrections had previously allowed him to keep dreadlocks so long as he tilted his head and ran his fingers through his hair to prove he was not hiding anything inside them.

Online jail records said that Koger was incarcerated in Trumbull Correctional Institution in 2011 on one count of aggravate murder and one of aggravated robbery. He has a mandatory sentence of 30 years - according to the online records his first parole hearing will not occur until October 2031.