Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Gurumurthy Kalyanaram on Lawsuits and Policies: US Supreme Court Will Consider the Right to a Beard by a Prisoner

Gurumurthy Kalyanaram reports on lawsuits and policies and in this brief discusses the question on the right to a beard by a prisoner.

Holt’s lawsuit in the Arkansas federal district court has now reach the US Supreme Court for its consideration and review.

Gurumurthy Kalyanaram Lawsuit

Holt, a religious prisoner in Arkansas, was denied permission to grow a beard as dictated by his faith.  Arkansas prison officials, per their manual, demanded that Holt trim his beard substantially.  Arkansas prison policy prohibits prisoners from having beards that are more than a quarter-inch long, and then only if a doctor has diagnosed them with a skin problem. Holt refuses to do comply with this policy. 

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (commonly known as RLUIPA) affirms that “[n]o government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution,” even if the burden results from a rule that normally applies to everyone, unless the government can show that the burden advances “a compelling governmental interest” and is the least intrusive way of doing so. For purposes of the law, “institution” includes state prisons that receive federal financial assistance, which Arkansas prisons do.

So, it appears that Holt is protected by RLUIPA, but the Arkansas prison officials did not think so.  Now the US Supreme Court will decide this matter.  Based on the simple and straightforward reading of the RLUIPA, it appears that the Arkansas has overreached in its beard grooming policy.

Please refer to other articles by Gurumurthy Kalyanaram on lawsuits and policies on his website:

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