The Supreme Court unanimously struck down an Arkansas prison ban on inmate beards, which McClatchy Newspapers calls “a remarkable legal victory for a habitual offender turned devout Muslim who started off representing himself.” In an emphatic decision, the court concluded that the prison's grooming policy violated the religious rights of the prisoner known both as Gregory Holt and Abdul Maalik Muhammad. He'd challenged corrections officials who'd denied his request to grow a half-inch beard.
“We do not question the importance of the department's interests in stopping the flow of contraband and facilitating prisoner identification,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote, but he added that “the department has failed to show that its policy is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interests.” Alito noted that “the vast majority of states and the federal government permit inmates to grow half-inch beards, either for any reason or for religious reasons.” “The ruling . . . firmly underscores that courts should not blindly defer when the government invokes 'security' as a reason to curtail rights,” said Jenifer Wicks of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.