Prison beard ban tossed as high court backs religious rights

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Prison beard ban tossed as high court backs religious rights.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. WASHINGTON — A Supreme Court that has extended the reach of religion into public life in recent years ruled Tuesday (Jan. 20) that spirituality can overcome even prison security concerns.WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is siding with a Muslim prison inmate in Arkansas who sued for the right to grow a short beard for religious reasons. The court’s unanimous ruling Tuesday in a case about religious liberty stands in contrast to the Hobby Lobby case that bitterly divided the justices in June over whether family-owned corporations could mount religious objections to paying for women’s contraceptives under the health care overhaul.

The justices unanimously ruled that the state’s no-beard policy violated a 2000 federal law that requires prison officials to accommodate the religious practices of inmates when feasible. 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. — In a 7-2 ruling, sided with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. in the company’s high-stakes patent dispute with rival firms over top-selling multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone. The unanimous opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, had been widely anticipated despite two lower court decisions upholding the state’s no-beard policy. — Ruled that lower courts should take another look at an appeal from a Missouri man on death row for killing a woman and her two children 16 years ago.

Further, Alito wrote that because 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.” The state contended that the no-beard policy lets guards quickly identify prisoners and that an inmate with a beard could shave it before attempting to enter restricted prison areas or escape. — Refused to hear a challenge from retailers who claim the Federal Reserve allows banks to charge businesses too much for handling so-called “swipe fees” in consumer debit card transactions.

— Declined to halt a lawsuit against a Louisiana Roman Catholic church and a priest over allegations that a teen was kissed and fondled by an adult church parishioner. A law passed by Congress in 2000 was intended to protect prisoners’ religious rights, much like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was meant to protect religious freedom in general. — Turned away three appeals from military contractor KBR Inc. that sought to dismiss lawsuits over a soldier’s electrocution in Iraq and open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The issue before the court was Arkansas’ requirement that prisoners be clean-shaven unless they have a medical reason for keeping a quarter-inch beard. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a short but pointed concurring opinion noting the difference between the prison beards case, and last June’s highly controversial Supreme Court decision allowing for-profit corporations that object to contraception to bar contraceptive insurance coverage for their employees.

While more than 40 state prison systems allow beards in general, Gregory Holt had agreed to keep his to a half-inch — virtually negating the chance he could hide weapons or contraband in it. The difference, she said, is that in this case, accommodating the prisoner’s religious beliefs “would not detrimentally affect others who do not share [his] belief.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the concurrence and also wrote separately to stress the danger of the prison environment. The law at issue in the case, the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, is similar to a separate religious-freedom measure that applies in other contexts.

Noting that Holt had been granted several other religious concessions, such as a prayer rug, a special diet and holiday observances, the lower courts deferred to the state’s judgment about its security needs. Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad, had persuaded the court to hear his case with a 15-page, handwritten petition citing his desire to keep a beard as part of his Muslim faith. “This is a matter of grave importance, pitting the rights of Muslim inmates against a system that is hostile to these views,” he wrote.

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