Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Exercise of religious freedom in prison - Holt v. Hobbs

Reason.com has an excellent rundown on the case of Holt v. Hobbs and how it impacts religious liberty in correctional facilities.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument today in the case of Holt v. Hobbs. At issue is the Arkansas Department of Corrections' refusal to allow a Muslim inmate named Gregory Houston Holt (also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammed) to grow a one-half inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. According to state officials, the no-beard policy is essential to maintaining safety and security. It prevents inmates from hiding contraband on their persons, those officials claim, and also prevents inmates from changing their appearance by shaving.
But the mere assertion of such rationales is not sufficient by itself to justify this restriction. In order to pass muster, the prison's no-beard policy must satisfy the terms of a federal law known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which holds: "No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise" of prisoners residing in institutions that receive federal funding, unless the government can demonstrate that the burden furthers "a compelling government interest" and "is the least restrictive means" of doing so. If that language sounds familiar, it's because the RLUIPA largely borrowed it from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the federal law recently invoked by the Supreme Court in the Obamacare case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.

Full article at - http://reason.com/blog/2014/10/07/today-at-scotus-prison-security-vs-inmat

Certainly it is important to maintain security in correctional facilities, but even prisoners deserve basic religious freedoms. If that includes growing a beard, and it is a legitimate religious claim as appears in this case, then every effort to allow that freedom should be extended.

The probable apocryphal quote from Dostoevsky -

“You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners”

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