updated 4/2/2004 4:08:43 PM ET 2004-04-02T21:08:43

A federal lawsuit was filed Wednesday on behalf of an American Indian prison inmate who alleges he’s lost privileges because he refuses to cut his hair.

Billy Soza Warsoldier, 55, claims his faith prohibits him from cutting his hair except if someone in his family dies. Since 1971, Warsoldier has cut his hair just once — when his father died in 1980.

“I don’t understand why I’m being punished for practicing my faith,” Warsoldier said in a statement.

Warsoldier, a member of the Cahuilla tribe, is serving a 19-month sentence for drunken driving at Adelanto Community Correctional Facility.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleges the state Department of Corrections punished Warsoldier for refusing to comply with a grooming policy that restricts hair length in male inmates to 3 inches.

Because of his refusal, Warsoldier has lost visitation rights, is prohibited from receiving quarterly packages and was removed from vocational courses, the lawsuit claims.

“A prison inmate shouldn’t have to choose between remaining faithful to his religion and maintaining contact with his children and grandchildren,” said Ben Wizner, an ACLU staff attorney.

Calls to the state Department of Corrections were not immediately returned.

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