U.S. Supreme Court to Decide on Inmate's Religious Right to Wear a Beard

Muslim man wants to grow a half-inch beard to accord with his faith. But the state refused the request, calling such a beard a security risk.

AP

Among the high-profile cases the U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear in its current term is one on Tuesday that concerns whether an inmate has the religious right to wear a beard.

Gregory Holt, who also goes by the name Abdul Maalik Muhammad, is serving life in prison in Arkansas. A Muslim, he said he wants to grow a half-inch (1.3 cm) beard to accord with his faith. But the state refused the request, calling such a beard a security risk.

The case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and the judges there sided with Arkansas. Holt then approached the Supreme Court with a handwritten appeal, media reports say.

Arkansas's attorneys say that a prisoner could escape and then alter his appearance by shaving the beard. They also argue that a blade or a SIM card could be hidden in facial hair of that thickness, the Los Angeles Times reported.

An inmate in Arkansas can grow a quarter-inch beard for medical reasons if he cannot shave, the L.A. Times reported. Otherwise, state policy allows an inmate only a neatly trimmed mustache, CNN reported.

The Obama administration backs Holt in the case, as do advocacy groups including the American Jewish Committee. And policies in 44 other states would enable Holt to grow the beard he is seeking.

The case is Holt vs. Hobbs. Ray Hobbs is the director of the Arkansas Department of Corrections.