Orthodox Jewish organizations are praising the U.S. Supreme Court for its unanimous ruling allowing a Muslim prison inmate in Arkansas, Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad, to grow a short beard for religious reasons. The high court originally heard the case, Holt v. Hobbs, in October 2014.
The Orthodox Union, together with other leading Orthodox Jewish organizations, filed a “Friend of the Court” brief, authored by noted attorney Nathan Lewin, urging the Supreme Court to preserve the prisoner’s religious liberty and to make a broad ruling in the case.
“The Orthodox Union respects the rights of all individuals of faith to follow their religious tenets. The unanimous decision by the justices of the Supreme Court is a victory for all religions and anyone who wishes to follow his/her faith and proves that government institutions cannot place substantial burdens on religious practices,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union.
The full text of the amicus brief can be read here.
Agudath Israel Hails High Court Ruling on Prison Beards as Victory for Religious Freedom
The Supreme Court ruled today that a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas is allowed to grow a beard in accordance with his religious beliefs, despite a state policy barring beards. In the case, Holt v. Hobbs, the state had argued that the policy against beards was needed for security reasons. The Supreme Court rejected that argument by a 9-0 unanimous vote, saying that beards could be searched, and that the policy against beards violated the prisoner’s rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000.
Agudath Israel of America, which had participated along with other Orthodox Jewish organizations in an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on behalf of the prisoner, hailed the decision. The brief was written by noted constitutional attorney Nathan Lewin on behalf of COLPA, the national Jewish Coalition on Law and Public Affairs. Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel, stated that the case was “a true victory for religious liberty.” “More than 40 states allow prisoners to grow beards in accordance with their religious beliefs, and now all states will be required to allow prisoners this religious freedom. We commend the Supreme Court for its unanimous decision today upholding the scope of religious liberty protected by RLUIPA. We hope that this decision will lead to the enhancement of other religious accommodations for prisoners, including religious dietary and Sabbath and holiday observance.“