News outlets including The New York Times and CNN reported that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 to allow a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas to grow a half-inch beard, and that the Department of Corrections’ policy on beard-growing violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which, according to Justice Samuel Alito,
prohibits a state or local government from taking any action that substantially burdens the religious exercise of an institutionalized person unless the government demonstrates that the action constitutes the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.
The prisoner, Gregory Holt, or Abdul Maalik Muhammad, was sentenced to life in 2010 for first degree battery; prior to that he had threatened President George W. Bush’s children.
According to the New York Times, more than 40 state prison systems allow prisoners to have beards. On the other side of the argument, concerns cited include the possibility of prisoners hiding contraband in their beards and escaped prisoners shaving their beards to alter their appearances.
According to CNN:
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a brief concurring opinion joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor distinguishing this case from last term’s Hobby Lobby opinion. In that case a divided court ruled in favor of the religious freedom claims of closely held for profit corporations with sincerely held religious objections to including a full range of contraceptives in their insurance plans. Ginsburg said, “unlike the exemption this Court approved in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, accommodating petitioner’s religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief” .
Posted by Cara Modisett