On Tuesday the Supreme Court ruled that a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas can grow a beard for religious reasons.
The justices said that inmate Gregory Holt could maintain a half-inch beard because Arkansas prison officials could not substantiate claims that the beard posed a security risk.
Holt sued, claiming he has a right to grow a beard under a federal law that protects prisoners’ religious rights. More than 40 other states allow prisoners to grow beards.
Holt is also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad. He was backed by the Obama administration and religious groups. The Obama administration is very selective in its support of religious freedom, as they went to the Supreme Court to force private business owners to violate their religious beliefs and provide abortifacients to employees.
Justice Samuel Alito said in his opinion for the court that Arkansas can satisfy its security concerns in some other way when “so many other prisons allow inmates to grow beards while ensuring prison safety and security.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the dissent in the Hobby Lobby case, remarked on her view of the differences between the two cases in a brief separate opinion Tuesday.
Holt, aka Muhammad, is serving a life sentence for a “brutal assault” on his girlfriend and is being held in a maximum security prison 80 miles outside Arkansas. “Holt argued in court papers that his obligation to grow a beard comes from hadiths, accounts of the acts or statements of the Prophet Muhammad. In one statement attributed to the prophet, Muslims are commanded to ‘cut the mustaches short and leave the beard.’ ”