The United States Supreme Court has made a unanimous decision to grant prisoner Gregory Holt the right to keep his beard for religious reasons.
Gregory Holt was won the right to keep his beard in a unanimous decision from the Supreme Court. The state of Arkansas must allow the prisoner to grow a beard if it is part of his religious beliefs as a Muslim. It took several years, but the Supreme Court has finally passed the decision in favor of religious freedom in our prison system. Holt passed through the lower Courts, only to be denied because he was “given access to other religious exercises,” such as a prayer rug, special diets, and holiday observance. However, according to the law passed in 2000, and the most recent Supreme Court decision, the lower Courts did not quite get it right.
Arkansas Prison Denied Holt’s Religious Right to Grow a Beard
Under the 2000 law, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), “[N]o government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of an institutionalized person unless the government demonstrates that the burden is the least restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling governmental interest.” According to the SCOTUS decision as articulated by Justice Alito, the petitioner had no trouble satisfying his burden of proving his sincere religious beliefs and that the government’s actions had burdened his religious exercise.
Holt managed to convince the Supreme Court to hear his case with a lengthy, handwritten piece citing his desire to keep his beard. “This is a matter of grave importance, pitting the rights of Muslim inmates against a system that is hostile to these views,” he wrote.
Over the hearing, the state was unable to provide a good counter-argument. They claimed that one could hide contraband in his beard, though Holt had offered a compromise of a ½-inch beard. Alito said, “We readily agree that [the state] has a compelling interest in staunching the flow of contraband into and within its facilities, but the argument that this interest would be seriously compromised by allowing an inmate to grow a half-inch beard is hard to take seriously.” The state did not have a regulation for the length of hair on inmate’s heads, and had given permission to inmates to grow ¼-inch beards if diagnosed with a skin disease. In regards to the departments concerns that, if escaped, they could change their appearance by shaving the beard, the Court responded that it would be the same for a mustache or head hair.
The failure to adequately explain “the substantial under inclusiveness” of their policy shows that its interest “could be achieved by narrower ordinances that burdened religion to a far less degree.”