Ruling in support of the religious freedom, the US Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas to keep his a half-inch beard in accordance with his Islamic faith, saying the jail inmate has a legal right to practice his religious sentiments.
The top court also rejected the contention of the state that the growth of facial hair would pose a security risk.
The justices unanimously passed the ruling that the no-beard policy of the state violated a 2000 federal law that needs prison officials to accommodate the religious sentiments and practices of the prisoners when viable.
The state of Arkansas had argued unsuccessfully before the top court that long beards would pose security risks as they may let the jail inmates disguise their identity or conceal their weapons.
Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said, “The department has a compelling interest in staunching the flow of contraband into and within its facilities, but the argument that this interest would be seriously compromised by allowing an inmate to grow a 1/2-inch beard is hard to take seriously.”
The justice said that the state’s prisons allow inmates wear 1/4-inch beards if essential due to a medical condition.
Alito further wrote, “As the inmates aren’t required to have shaved heads or short crew cuts, it is hard to see why an inmate would seek to hide contraband in a 1/2-inch beard rather than in the longer hair on his head.”
Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom and co-counsel in the case, said, “This is a huge victory for all Americans and for the religious freedom. What the Supreme Court said today was that government officials cannot impose arbitrary restrictions on religious liberty just because they think government knows best.”
Gregory Holt, lawyers for the inmate, argued before the court that his beard would be allowed in the US Bureau of Prisons and over 40 states. The Obama administration has also supported Holt, who is serving a life term at a maximum-security facility in Arkansas. He was found guilty for stabbing his ex-girlfriend.
Meanwhile, the state contended that its no-beard policy allows guards to quickly identify the jail inmates.