"Hair on the head is a more plausible place to hide contraband than a 1/2 inch beard—and the same is true of an inmate’s clothing and shoes. Nevertheless, the [state] does not require inmates to go about bald, barefoot, or naked," the Court noted.
US Supreme Court Rules Muslim Prisoner Can Grow Beard; Agudath Israel Of America, Orthodox Union, Hail Decision
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The United States Supreme Court ruled today that a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas may grow a short beard in accordance with his religious beliefs.
In Holt v. Hobbs, Arkansas argued that its statewide policy against beards in prisons was necessary to maintain prison security.
But by a 9 to 0 margin, the Court rejected that argument.
"Hair on the head is a more plausible place to hide contraband than a 1/2 inch beard—and the same is true of an inmate’s clothing and shoes. Nevertheless, the Department does not require inmates to go about bald, barefoot, or naked," the Court noted.
While recognizing the potential for the need to limit certain specific prisoners' facial hair for security reasons, it rejected a general need to to so for all prisoners. It noted that the state allows prisoners who have a dermatological need to grow 1/4 inch beards and that there is no appreciable difference in security risk between that length of beard and a 1/2 inch beard. These beards could be searched, the court also noted, while the state's policy banning beards violated the Muslim prisoner's rights guaranteed under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
Agudath Israel of America and other Orthodox Jewish organizations reportedly previously filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on behalf of the Muslim prisoner and in support of his right to have a beard. The brief was written by attorney Nathan Lewin for COLPA, the national Jewish Coalition on Law and Public Affairs.
After today’s ruling was announced, Agudath Israel of America’s Executive Vice President Chaim Dovid Zwiebel hailed it as “a true victory for religious liberty.”
“More than 40 states allow prisoners to grow beards in accordance with their religious beliefs, and now all states will be required to allow prisoners this religious freedom. We commend the Supreme Court for its unanimous decision today upholding the scope of religious liberty protected by RLUIPA. We hope that this decision will lead to the enhancement of other religious accommodations for prisoners, including religious dietary and Sabbath and holiday observance,” Zwiebel reportedly said.
“The unanimous decision by the justices of the Supreme Court is a victory for all religions and anyone who wishes to follow his/her faith and proves that government institutions cannot place substantial burdens on religious practices,” Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union, said in a statement.