Beards in Prison

The Supreme Court’s most recent religious freedom challenge after Hobby Lobby is coming from a Muslim man who wants the right to keep his beard.

A new case is being put before the Supreme Court that will test the limits of religious freedom in the United States. Although they were recently deeply divided on the Hobby Lobby case, they have not earned a reprieve from a court battle that is being fought over facial hair. The case was brought by a prison inmate named Gregory Holt, a Muslim prisoner who is also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad. His handwritten filing with the Supreme Court has brought supporters and critics alike, in what is shaping up to be a landmark case.

Is a Beard a Religious Right?

The subject of the court battle is the length that Holt is being forced to keep his facial hair while he is incarcerated. The standard procedure for facial hair in prisons is that it must be shaved except in the case of skin conditions. Gregory Holt has petitioned for the ability to wear beards that are about half an inch in length in order to stay true to his faith, which encourages men to wear a lengthy beard.

While his particular facility, located in Arkansas, has very tight restrictions on facial hair, many others across the nation have done away with the practice of making prisoners shave. Still, the facility officials insist that beards could be used to hide contraband like needles, drugs, or razors, a claim that has been viewed as nothing short of preposterous by the courts that passed the case on.

Outpouring Of Support

With the Hobby Lobby case still fresh in their minds and with criticism swirling over their Christian-centric caseload, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has taken up the cause against the Department of Corrections in Arkansas. The case has attracted a great deal of people throughout the nation who want to see the religious beliefs of all religions respected. They have helped fund and bolster his case by noting that there should be a burden on the courts to produce any cases where prisoners have used their beards for smuggling contraband.

How Will It Fare?

While many people have supported Holt’s cause, many others believe that there is a major consideration in this case. It is that the same court that used the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the Hobby Lobby case; a test for the court which ultimately must decide whether the rights sought by Holt would be the easiest way to give him the ability to practice his religion. The ACLU seems to think that the case is a sure win for Holt, but many correspondents who covered the previous cases tried with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act are not so sure. The case will be tried as soon as the court comes back from summer recess, and the future of beards will be in their hands.

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