Supreme Court rules against Arkansas in case over Muslim prisoner's beard | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Supreme Court rules against Arkansas in case over Muslim prisoner's beard

Posted By on Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 9:19 AM

GREGORY HOLT: Supreme Court allows beard.
  • GREGORY HOLT: Supreme Court allows beard.
The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that the Arkansas Correction Department may not prohibit a Muslim inmate from growing a short beard.

This overturns a string of decisions by a magistrate, district judge and 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that the state should be given deference for security reasons in prohibiting beards. 

The Supreme Court held that Arkansas was in violation of federal law that prohibits governments from imposing a "substantial burdern on the religious exercise" of an institutionalized person unless the burden is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling public interest.

The inmate, Gregory Holt, also known as Muhammad, wanted to grow a half-inch beard. The department said such a beard could be used to hide contraband.

Wrote the Supreme Court:

While the Department has a compelling interest in regulating contraband, its argument that this interest is compromised by allowing an inmate to grow a ½-inch beard is unavailing, especially given the difficulty of hiding contraband in such a short beard and the lack of a corresponding policy regulating the length of hair on the head. 

The Supreme Court decision was unanimous, though Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor filed a separate concurring opinion.

In the majority opinion, the court responded to the state's arguments:

*  [Even if there is an interest in prisoner identification,] As petitioner argues, requiring inmates to be photographed both with and without beards and then periodically thereafter is a less restrictive means of solving the Department’s identification concerns. The Department fails to show why its prison system is so different from the many institutions that allow facial hair that the dual-photo method cannot be employed at its institutions. It also fails to show why the security risk presented by a prisoner shaving a ½-inch beard is so different from the risk of a prisoner shaving a mustache, head hair, or ¼-inch beard.

* ... the Department also fails to adequately explain the substantial underinclusiveness of its policy, since it permits ¼-inch beards for prisoners with medical conditions and more than ½ inch of hair on the head. Its failure to pursue its proffered objectives with regard to such “analogous nonreligious conduct” suggests that its interests “could be achieved by narrower ordinances that burdened religion to a far lesser degree. ...  Nor does the Department explain why the vast majority of States and the Federal Government can permit inmates to grow ½-inch beards, either for any reason or for religious reasons, but it cannot. Such evidence requires a prison, at a minimum, to offer persuasive reasons why it believes it must take a different course

The concurring opinion was a jab at the court majority in the Hobby Lobby case that allowed a religious exception from the law requiring contraceptives to be covered under private health insurance policies. Ginsburg wrote:

Unlike the exemption this Court approved in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, accommodating petitioner’s religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief. On that
understanding, I join the Court’s opinion. 

Tags: , , , , ,

From the ArkTimes store

Favorite

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Auditor Lea caught not telling the truth

    State Auditor Andrea Lea, who began her tenure in statewide office with a degree of competence unseen in some other Republican counterparts (think Treasurer Dennis Milligan particularly), is becoming more deeply mired in a political scandal.
    • Mar 4, 2016
  • Arkansas Supreme Court refuses to rehear invalidation of marijuana act

    The Arkansas Supreme Court today denied a request to rehear its decision invalidating Issue 7, the medical marijuana initiated act.
    • Nov 3, 2016
  • Another Republican miracle-working governor

    Great piece in Washington Post on the budget crisis in Louisiana. Big tax cuts and corporate welfare will do that to a state, particularly to a state whose previous governor, Republican Bobby Jindal, refused to join the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion. There's a lesson there for Arkansas.
    • Mar 4, 2016

Most Shared

  • ASU to reap $3.69 million from estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn

    Arkansas State University announced today plans for spending an expected $3.69 million gift in the final distribution of the estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn, who died in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
  • Sex on campus

    Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated.

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation