On October 7, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in Holt v. Hobbs on whether the Arkansas Department of Corrections grooming policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons act of 2000 (RLUIPA) when it prohibits a prisoner from growing a one-half-inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs.
Inmate Gregory Holt (aka Abdul Maalik Muhammad) argues that one of his Muslim beliefs is that he must grow a beard but that the state of Arkansas substantially burdened his religious practice by disallowing beards. The policy only permits trimmed mustaches and no other facial hair. The only exception for beards is quarter-inch beards for those with diagnosed dermatological problems. Holt proposed his half-inch beard as a compromise.
The state argues that the policy prevents inmates from concealing contraband, drugs, or weapons and that inmates can change their appearance quickly by shaving. They also argued that permitting Holt to wear a beard could cause security problems.
In response, Holt argued that prisons in other more than 40 other state prison systems are allowed to wear beards.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s findings that the state had met its burden under RLUIPA by demonstrating that the grooming policy was the least restrictive means of furthering a “compelling penological interest.” The court also deferred to the “expert judgment” of the prison officials are “more familiar with their own institutions.”
Holt petitioned for the Supreme Court to hear the case, and the Court issued an interim order that Holt must be allowed to grow a half-inch beard until the Court renders its decision.
For more information including amicus briefs and proceedings, visit http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/holt-v-hobbs/