Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Bearded Inmate

Christine Rousselle
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Posted: Jan 20, 2015 4:00 PM
Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Bearded Inmate

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today in the case Holt v. Hobbs that a prison in Arkansas cannot force an inmate to shave his beard. The prisoner, Gregory Holt (who now goes by Abdul Muhammad), is a Muslim who claimed that being forced to shave his beard violated his religious freedom. Holt sought to grow a half-inch long beard, but was told that facial hair was prohibited due to security concerns in the Varner Supermax prison. Holt was represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

A statement released by Holt's co-counsel Eric Rassbach praised the Supreme Court's decision is a win for religious freedom, and noted that most other states did not have similar policies that restricted the length of a prisoner's facial hair.

This is a huge win for religious freedom and for all Americans. More than 43 prison systems across the country allow prisoners to grow a half-inch beard, and at least 41 prison systems would allow an even longer beard. What the Supreme Court said today was that government officials cannot impose arbitrary restrictions on religious liberty just because they think government knows best.

This is a victory not just for one prisoner in Arkansas, but for every American who believes and wants the freedom to act on those beliefs.

I agree. There's no inherent security risk with a beard that short, and if dozens of other states have no issue with facial hair of that length; I really don't see the harm in allowing this prisoner to have a beard. Arkansas already allowed prisoners to grow beards for medical reasons—I don't understand what the major issue was with this man's beard. Religious freedom does not evaporate in the walls of a prison.