A victory for religious liberty: Supreme Court allows Muslim inmates to grow beards

by Mark A. Kellner

January 21, 2015

Supporters of religious freedom say Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing a Muslim inmate in Arkansas to grow a beard is part of a continuing commitment by the high court to guarantee individual religious liberties.

In a 9-0 decision, the high court said it was a religious right for Abdul Maalik Muhammad, a Muslim inmate also known as Gregory Holt, to grow a beard as part of his religious observance, despite an Arkansas prison rule against beards that are not needed for medical reasons.

Arkansas prison officials “failed to show that its policy is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interests” in maintaining order and discipline in prison, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the unanimous panel. Arkansas officials had argued a beard could be used to hide contraband, or could easily be shaved should a prisoner escape and wish to change his appearance.

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