In an interesting ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States has sided with Muslim prisoners who wish to grow their beards. The Court ruled 9-0 in favor of Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad, a White Muslim, for his religious freedom claims against the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Holt wished to grow a beard in accordance with his Islamic faith, but the Department of Corrections forbade him from doing it, due to its policy that banned beards unless an inmate had been diagnosed with a dermatological disorder.
The Supreme Court found that the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ policy “as applied to this case, violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) which prohibits a state or local government from taking any action that substantially burdens the religious exercise of an institutionalized person unless the government demonstrates that the action constitutes the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.”
According to CNN:
In 2010, Holt was convicted of first-degree battering and sentenced to life. Five years earlier he had pleaded guilty to threatening to kidnap and harm the daughters of President George W. Bush. In a handwritten petition, Holt asked that the Justices take up his case because the “no beard grooming” policy violated his rights to “practice Islam as he believes it is supposed to be practiced by wearing the beard.” He said he was a devoted Salafi Muslim.
The original policy was put in place to deter inmates from smuggling and hiding contraband in their beards. This notion was struck down because it would be hard to conceal anything in a 1/2 in beard, according to the Supreme Court. Also taken into consideration was the fact that 40 other state and federal prisons in the nation allow inmates to grow half inch beards.