“The state responds that inmate beards could pose a security risk to guards and the public.” Safety? Pah! Islam must be accommodated! Wherever Islamic law and American law conflict, American law must give way — and the Obama Administration will fight for that.
“Justices to debate prisoner’s religious right to grow a beard,” by Bill Mears, CNN, October 2, 2014:
(CNN) — An Arkansas inmate seeks to exercise what he says is a key tenet of his faith, but corrections officials cite security concerns in their refusal to accommodate. The issue comes down to a half-inch beard, and this claim of religious liberty within prison walls will now be debated by the Supreme Court.
The justices will kick off the first week of their new term with a one-hour oral argument Tuesday. The case will be another major test of the government’s ability to justify a range of policies that might restrict religious accommodation — from the Obamacare health law to workplace hiring.
Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad, is a Muslim who filed a handwritten petition with the high court. He cites rights under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA.
The state responds that inmate beards could pose a security risk to guards and the public: Prisoners who escape could shave their facial hair, altering their appearance. And weapons and other contraband could be hidden in heavy beards or inside their cheeks, covered by facial hair.
Current Arkansas prison policy allows only a “neatly trimmed mustache.”
The Obama administration is backing Holt, and some legal analysts say that could ultimately sway the justices, who have traditionally been deferential to the security judgments of prison officers….
But in his self-initiated plea to the justices, Holt complained that he and fellow Muslims were forced “to either obey their religious beliefs and face disciplinary action on the one hand, or violate those beliefs in order to acquiesce” to the facial hair policy.
He cited the Hadith — literary traditions and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed — which says, “Allah’s Messenger said, ‘Cut the mustaches short and leave the beard (as it is).’ ” Holt said he offered to keep his beard to a half-inch as a “compromise,” but that was rejected.
The U.S. Justice Department has offered its support, saying more than 40 states and the federal correctional system allow beards of varying lengths.
“When Congress enacted RLUIPA, it made clear that courts should accord deference to prison administrators’ considered judgments about how to run safe and efficient prisons,” Obama administration lawyers told the court in a written brief. “Congress also made clear, however, that such deference is not due when a prison justifies a restriction based on exaggerated fears or mere speculation.”
The state obviously sees things differently. Holt is housed at the Varner Supermax, a 468-bed, ultra-maximum security section of the correctional facility in Grady, Arkansas, near Pine Bluff.
Officials point to Inmate 129-616’s self-admission as a “Yemen-trained Muslim fundamentalist” with a violent criminal past. He had been indicted by a federal grand jury for threatening to harm then-President George W. Bush’s two daughters.
A few years later, he was convicted in state court and sentenced to life in prison for breaking into the home of his ex-girlfriend and severely wounding her, slitting her throat and stabbing her in the chest.
Law enforcement officials say he threatened to wage “jihad” against anyone who helped convict him, both at trial and later behind bars.
So state leaders had a simple message for the courts: Allow us room to decide which restrictions work best within each institution’s unique circumstances.
“Prisons are dangerous places … officials create rules intended to strike a delicate balance between safety and security, on the one hand, and giving inmates a sense of dignity and achieving rehabilitative goals, on the other hand,” said the Arkansas brief to the high court. Corrections officials take “religious freedom seriously,” but they also take seriously their “paramount interests in safety and security, too.”…