Unanimous Supreme Court affirms Muslim inmate’s right to grow beard

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

How have Christians and non-Christians fared before the Supreme Court in RFRA and RLUIPA cases?.

WASHINGTON The Supreme Court handed down opinions in three cases Tuesday and declined to hear arguments in dozens more. A unanimous Supreme Court said on Tuesday that Arkansas can’t dictate the length of a beard maintained by a Muslim prisoner, after he made his own case initially to the Court using a handwritten form.

I’ve long been skeptical of claims that justices in religious freedom cases — and especially devoutly Christian justices, such as Justice Antonin Scalia — are biased in favor of Christians in religious exemption cases. Among the highlights, the court: — Unanimously allowed a Muslim prison inmate in Arkansas to grow a half-inch beard for religious purposes, rejecting prison officials’ claims that it posed a security risk. The court ruled that under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), state prison officials are required to offer an accommodation whenever a prison policy substantially burdens an inmate’s religious exercise.

— 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. Courts will uphold the prison policy when officials are able to demonstrate that it constitutes the least restrictive means of furthering the government’s compelling interest. STOCK IMAGE WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that an Arkansas prison cannot prevent a Muslim inmate from wearing a half-inch long beard, in keeping with his religious beliefs.

— 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. — 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.

Arkansas corrections officials said they enforced a no-beards policy in furtherance of their compelling interest in maintaining safety and security at the prison, including preventing smuggling of contraband. In the decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, the US high court said the prison restrictions violate Holt’s constitutional rights to freedom of religion. Different cases involve different legal issues, and — especially when you have only a few cases in your sample — it may well be that any differential success rates stem from something other than religion. — 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.

Alito also affirmed that RLUIPA doesn’t require a correctional facility to grant religious exemptions simply because a prisoner asks for one, or because other prisons grant exceptions. Prison officials, Alito wrote, have given the inmate the option of either “engaging in conduct that seriously violates his religious belief, or contravening the grooming policy and risking disciplinary action.” Forty of the 50 US states allow prisoners to wear a trim beard. — 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. But he said that Arkansas couldn’t explain why its beard-length policy conflicted with “the vast majority of states” and the federal government, which permit prisoners to grow ½-inch beards for any reason.

Holt, who did time for making a threat against President Bush’s daughters before being convicted in 2010 of knifing his girlfriend, was sentenced to life in prison in 2010. Flores (1993): 6-3 defeat (Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Stephen Breyer and David Souter dissenting) for the Catholic claimants who sought an exemption from historic landmark preservation laws for a church building that they wanted to alter. The nine justices acknowledged the validity of prison officials’ security concerns — that inmates could hide weapons or other contraband inside their whiskers. But Arkansas, she said, “offered little more than unsupported assertions in defense of its refusal of petitioner’s requested religious accommodation.” Holt, also known as Abdul Malik Muhammad, is serving a life sentence for domestic violence and burglary, after he was convicted of cutting his girlfriend’s throat and stabbing her in the chest. Wilkinson (2005): Unanimous victory for the three prisoner claimants, who were (a) a Christian Identity / Aryan Nation racist, (b) an Asatru / Odinist, and (c) a Wiccan.

In Arkansas, prison regulations allow “neatly trimmed” mustaches, along with quarter-inch beards for inmates with dermatologic problems, but ban beards in other cases. Since the Department does not demand that inmates 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,” Alito said. Their claims under RLUIPA were allowed to go forward because the court rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to RLUIPA (again, a broader question than just whether these particular exemptions should be granted). 3.) Gonzales v. The UDV is technically described as a “Christian Spiritist” sect, but it’s safe to say, I think, that (a) the specific practice of the UDV is not at all a traditional Christian practice, (b) the UDV itself is culturally and theologically fairly far from the Christianity that the justices know (and, for some of them, love). They noted that the prison staff had provided several other accommodations to allow the inmate to practice his religion, including providing a prayer rug, access to religious materials, the ability to correspond with a religious advisor, special Islam-authorized foods, and observance of religious holidays.

I thus think that any in-group biases that justices might possibly have are not likely to come into play in cases such as this (or in the Santeria Free Exercise Clause case, Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center is the first and only nonprofit, nonpartisan institution devoted to the most powerful vision of freedom ever expressed: the U.S. A federal magistrate, a federal judge, and a panel of the Eighth US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the prison officials that they were not required to provide a religious exemption from their no-beard policy.

Constitution Daily, the Center’s blog, offers smart commentary and conversation about constitutional issues in the news, drawing insights from America’s history and a variety of expert contributors. Texas (2011): 6-2 defeat (Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Breyer dissenting, Justice Elena Kagan not participating) for the Christian prisoner claimant, on the question whether RLUIPA waived sovereign immunity for monetary damages. 5.) Burwell v.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained the difference in a brief concurrence joined by Sonia Sotomayor. “Unlike the exemption this Court approved in [the Hobby Lobby case], accommodating petitioner’s religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief,” Justice Ginsburg wrote. “On that understanding, I join the Court’s opinion,” she said. If we omit Boerne, Cutter and Sossamon, on the grounds that they dealt with cross-cutting issues that would affect many religious groups — and in which the particular claimant’s religious was just fortuitous (which is true of Employment Division v. Smith, as well, where a Native American Church member happened to be the losing claimant) — then we see that Christians had a 1-0 record and non-Christians had a 2-0 record.

Even short beards, one official said, could conceal “anything from razor blades to drugs to homemade darts.” Another said that SIM cards for cellphones could also be hidden in beards. Again, I stress that I do not think that counting cases this way, when there’s such a small sample and so many other issues involved (both in the cross-cutting cases and the cases that on their face resolve only a specific exemption question), is helpful.

As we see from Holt, the Christian claimants’ victory in Hobby Lobby helped the Muslim claimant in Holt; and I’m sure Holt will help future Christian claimants (as well as non-Christian claimants), too. Since we’re on this topic, let me mention a related claim that I’ve heard from some academics: that, at least in the 1960s to 1980s, “only Christians ever [won] free exercise cases” in the U.S.

Beto (1972) — a free exercise case, though one involving a right to equal treatment rather than a right to accommodation — upheld a Buddhist prison inmate’s right to sue based on a prison’s refusing to give him the same opportunity for religious worship as that given to Christian and Jewish inmates. In 1963, when the first of these cases was decided, there were apparently under 350,000 American Christians who belonged to the prominent Saturday-observer denominations, but over 500,000 Orthodox Jews — the Jews most likely to observe the Sabbath — and 5 million more non-Orthodox Jews, some of whom may also have observed the Sabbath. And the justices must have realized this: One of the justices who heard the first case was Jewish (Justice Arthur Goldberg), and just a few years earlier, the court had dealt with a different kind of claim brought by Jewish Sabbatarians.

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