Muslim Prisoner Wins U.S. Supreme Court Beard Case With the Aid of Orthodox Jews

Court says the Arkansas Department of Correction violated a 2000 law allowing prisoners to worship according to their religious beliefs.

AFP

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas on his beard length in a case that drew Orthodox Jewish support.

In the ruling Tuesday in favor of inmate Gregory Holt, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court said Arkansas failed to show why it was unable to allow the half-inch length that the “vast majority” of states and the federal government permit prisoners to grow their beards.

In so doing, the court said, the Arkansas Department of Correction violated a 2000 law that allows prisoners to worship according to their religious beliefs, and for which the Orthodox Jewish groups had lobbied on behalf of for years.

A coalition of Orthodox Jewish groups filed an amicus brief on Holt’s behalf in the case authored by Nathan Lewin, a Washington attorney who specializes in religious freedom cases before the high court.

“The unanimous decision by the justices of the Supreme Court is a victory for all religions and anyone who wishes to follow his/her faith and proves that government institutions cannot place substantial burdens on religious practices,” the Orthodox Union, one of the lobbying groups, said in a statement.

Agudath Israel of America, another of the lobbying groups, in a statement said the decision was “a true victory for religious liberty.”

This undated photo provided by the Arkansas Department of Correction shows prison inmate Holt.
AFP
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr.
AFP