On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court unanimously struck down a policy in the Arkansas’ Department of Corrections which forbade a Muslim inmate from growing a beard half of an inch in length.
— FindLawLP (@FindLawLP) January 20, 2015
Reason reported Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court voted 9-0 in Holt v. Hobbs, saying the policy violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which according to the ruling states, “no government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise” of any incarcerated persons except if the government shows that the burden “is the least restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling governmental interest.”
The New York Times pointed out Arkansas had a ban on beards beyond one quarter of an inch, but allowed neatly trimmed mustaches. The case centered on Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad. He is serving a life sentence for burglary and domestic battery.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion of the court. “We readily agree that the Department 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 1⁄2-inch beard is hard to take seriously,” Alito argued.
“An item of contraband would have to be very small indeed to be concealed by a 1⁄2-inch beard, and a prisoner seeking to hide an item in such a short beard would have to find a way to prevent the item from falling out. Since the Department does not demand that inmates have shaved heads or short crew cuts, it is hard to see why an inmate would seek to hide contraband in a 1⁄2-inch beard rather than in the longer hair on his head.”
Alito made a comparable case in October against the now defunct law, as Reason noted. He asked, “Why can’t the prison just give the inmate a comber…and say comb your beard, and if there’s anything in there, if there’s a SIM card in there.. a tiny revolver, it’ll fall out?”
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“I suppose that’s a possible alternative,” the attorney responded, making the case for the other side.
This is how some have reacted to the news today:
If you oppose religious liberty for Hobby Lobby, you should really oppose it for today’s 9-0 SCOTUS victor. http://t.co/jRIdUQbxSj
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) January 20, 2015
Shock news: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act does what it is intended to do. http://t.co/z4Ru1QR6JG
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) January 20, 2015
— Texas Bill (@PMgeezer) January 20, 2015