The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, called for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against the Arkansas prison regulations that compel religiously observant men to violate their beliefs and either shave their beards entirely or limit the length of the beard to one half-inch. The high court is scheduled to hear the case in question, Holt v. Hobbs, on Tuesday, October 7.
The Orthodox Union, together with other leading Orthodox Jewish organizations, filed a “Friend of the Court” brief, authored by noted attorney Nathan Lewin, arguing that the Supreme Court should follow the rule in the 41 jurisdictions that “impose no limitation whatever on male facial hair in prison and permit beards to be grown in prison to any length.” Such an interpretation of the federal Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act―a religious freedom statute the OU helped craft and pass into law in 2000—would bar all future attempts to deny religious individuals the right to follow their faith and grow facial hair.
In addition, the organizations urged the Court to broaden its ruling beyond the narrow confines of the case itself so that its ruling would address all other states that prohibit facial hair in their prisons and have a “prophylactic effect in securing religious liberty.”
“It is not enough to allow a prisoner to wear a beard, while still limiting the length of that beard. For religiously observant male adherents to the Jewish faith, facial hair is a subject of Jewish ritual law derived from a Biblical commandment in Leviticus,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union. “The Orthodox Union respects the rights of all individuals of faith to follow their religious tenets and grow facial hair to any length. We urge the Supreme Court to issue a broad ruling so that religious inmates in any state prison can follow their faith without danger of discipline now and in the future.”
The full text of the amicus brief can be read here.