Religious Freedom Ruling *for* Muslim Inmate Has WND Commenters Dazed

Posted: January 21, 2015 in legal / law, religion
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Well, perhaps not “dazed,” but certainly very split in their opinion. This was one of those stories, just a few hours old as I’m posting it, that I clicked on just to see how people would react: “Supremes Rule for Bearded Muslim Inmate.” The rule was in place in Arkansas and 9 other states based on the idea of easy inmate recognition amongst guards and ability of inmates to hide contraband in their beards.

On the one hand, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled 9 to 0 that a prison in Arkansas (and among all Arkansas state prisons) that prohibited inmates from growing facial hair could not prohibit that. The Muslim inmate, Gregory Holt, wanted to grow it as part of his religious observance.

But on the other hand … he’s a Muslim!! And that’s enough for WND commenters to just hate it. Well, that and he’s a prisoner (“TruBluAmerican” wrote: “You’re in prison you pig, you have no rights beyond 3 squares and a roof over your head, which is MORE than a lot of law abiding people have!”)

And so, on the one hand, you have “kingdad” who wrote:

Be Glad that they chose to uphold Religious Liberty as their are more and bigger Religious liberty cases coming down the pike. Important cases compared to this minor case of insignificance. All the other states have rules that permit State Prison inmates to grow beards esp. if it is a part of their Religious beliefs. Other religions have beards that are also mandatory, some Jews, the Sikhs for example.

But you have a reply by “Elena” who wrote: “You think the SCOTUS will come to the rescue of the former Atlanta Fire Chief? Keep dreaming. Only non-Christians are protected.” (This is in reference to an Atlanta fire chief who was fired by the mayor because of his virulently anti-gay statements.) A view echoed by “SATCitizen” who wrote: “OK Supreme Court. . .now you better remember this ruling when it comes to CHRISTIANS’ beliefs and the violation of.”

Or, you have “freedom defender” who wrote: “The rules on beards is rediculous to say the least. But once again, these liberal judges side with the muslim. This country has gone to hell in a hand basket, to use an old term.”

It’s interesting, sometimes, to see how cognitive dissonance plays out with this sort of thing.

  1. Tea Partier says:

    I think the Supreme Court is wrong on this one. The rule was in place for good reasons. Arguing that being shaved is against your religious freedom is not a strong argument in my opinion. If you want to argue that and say that it is a violation of your religion to not have a beard, my rebuttal would be that it is also a violation of your religion to commit the crime you did that got you into prison in the first place.
    I don’t know this particular man’s case but assuming that he was arrested on some of the most common reasons people are incarcerated, especially in State Prisons, drug possession, assault, rape, murder, theft, all of which are sins in the Islamic religion as well as many (I dare say all) other religions. So I’m sorry, if you broke your Islamic law by committing any of the aforementioned sins, which coincidentally happen to be laws of our land, and you were arrested because of it, then there is no difference in breaking your religious laws while in jail. You gave that right up when you committed whatever crime that got you in prison is what I’m saying.
    By the way, I’m not Muslim so I had to Google a list of Muslim sins. The list I found was 70 sins long. Now there may be more, I don’t know, but nowhere on that list of sins was the sin of shaving your face. Just Google ‘Muslim sins list’ if you want to see the same list I looked at, should be the top result. Let me know if I missed something. Food for thought.

    • Stuart Robbins says:

      I’m not sure which way I personally go on this one. If it were me, I would just be doing it for the fun of it as a “why not?” while I’m not doing anything else in prison as opposed for any actual religious reason. I did the post more to draw attention to the quandary that happens for the typical WND reader.

  2. flip says:

    @Tea Partier

    You are assuming the person was Muslim when they committed the crime and went to prison: just as there are born-again Christians, I am sure there are new converts to other religions (or none) after being convicted. Plus I suspect you might be conflating cultural taboos with religious ones.

    I myself am also unsure of my position on this. I can see where if it’s a safety concern then that should take precedence over religious sensibilities. At the same time you don’t want to deny a person’s freedom of religion. It’s a tough call.

    • Tea Partier says:


      That is very true, he could have converted to Islam in prison. Regardless of when his conversion happened, and regardless of what that conversion was, I personally believe that if you are incarcerated in a state prison, you have forfeited your freedoms by committing the act that got you arrested. Under the 5th amendment it states, “nor shall any person be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;…” In this case there HAS been due process of law AND because there seems to be legitimate reasons why growing a beard should not be allowed by prisoners, again i’m sorry but he should be forced to shave because he has gone through due process of law, found guilty and therefore could be deprived of his liberty rights.

      I hope I’m wrong in all of this by the way. The ruling was unanimous, 9 to 0. I can’t possibly understand the Constitution better than all 9 Supreme Court Justices, however, I don’t see how I am wrong in my thinking. Maybe I’m not understanding something correctly but if that is the case, then what am I not understanding?

      • Stuart Robbins says:

        I haven’t read the case and I’m not a law guy, but it’s possible that this was a narrow decision where the issue was an unconstitutional vagueness in the law of the length of a beard. They sometimes do that. So, would 3/8″ be allowed? Why that and not 1/2″? Where’s the justification?

        Perhaps it was something like that — they sometimes rule things unconstitutional for those more technical reasons than the broader, more lofty reasons that get trumped in the media.

      • flip says:

        Four thoughts:

        1. I am not American nor a lawyer so I’m speculating even more than you guys.
        2. Criminals are people too. They do have rights, even if they’ve lost them in other areas.

        The following are questions specifically for you Tea Partier,
        3. Would not providing razors to bearded men also cause a security issue? (And does the risk/benefit on shaving do better than the risk/benefit to not shaving in terms of security?)
        4. … This is the crux and something I have only just pondered myself. Many inmates could hide contraband and weapons inside books. One imagines some of those books to include Bibles. Would it be alright with you if they had decided instead to ban all books and forcibly remove all Bibles, Korans, etc from the prisons?

      • Tea Partier says:


        You were right. The challenge was against a 1/4″ long beard and the compromise that was reached was that it is now a 1/2″ long beard. Your point is valid though, if 1/2″ is now acceptable, why not 5/8″?


        to answer your questions;

        3) That is a great question. A quick internet search of “handmade prison weapons” shows a lot of weapons made by prisoners using anything at their disposal. Two inmates even managed to make a hand made shotgun out of things in their cell and throughout the prison. Weapons with razors were whips and brass knuckle type weapons. So to answer your question, yes, providing inmates with razors is a bad idea. I would think that the more suspected dangerous individuals would be monitored while they were shaving but then again as the saying goes, it’s always the quiet ones. The risk concerns as I imagined them to be was that an inmate could hide something in a full beard (such as a baggy of drugs, nails, small bullets things like that). Having a short beard or no beard at all makes it harder to conceal things. The argument is at what length is it necessary to hide something in a beard. My side would be that it’s impossible to hide something in a beard that isn’t there.

        4) Sounds alright with me. Although you just have to hope that the guards would check the books regularly to make sure they were not being used as containers of weapons and things. However, if it was proven that the guards were incompetent or not able to check all the books then the only things that are left to do would be to limit the number of books available to the prisoners or take away all the books period.

        Just out of curiosity, ((and it’s the internet here so you really don’t have to answer this question and I will understand exactly.)) You’re not American, where are you from? I live in Pennsylvania.

        Take care, and have a good weekend.

      • flip says:

        @Tea Partier

        As for point 3, you’re not following through to the end on that question. You agree that providing razors is a bad idea, but then you skip over that straight back to ‘concealing things in beards’ is also a bad idea. My parenthesis in brackets was included for a reason: it’s not as simple as saying X is bad. As with the discussion of vaccines or wearing seatbelts, it’s about the broader implications of risk/benefit analysis. Although I agree in general that it’s harder to conceal something in a beard, and that creates a safety concern, the main point is this:

        How does “hide things in beards” compare in risk vs “give prisoners razors”?
        How does “hide things in beards” compare in benefit vs “give prisoners razors”?
        (Or if you turn it around, “allow freedom of religion” vs “force prisoners to shave”?)

        You take the answers to both those questions, total it up. Let’s take a hypothetical:

        Prisoner A grows a beard. He’s not religious, but known for violence. He’s never hidden anything in his beard. The guards ask him to shave his beard: he refuses. They hand over a razor, and tell him to shave while they watch. The prisoner thinks this is a last straw and attacks the guard.

        Prisoner B grows a beard. He’s religious, and known for his calm attitude. But he’s severely depressed. The guard forces him to sit while the guard shaves the prisoner. The prisoner, being depressed, suddenly moves, causing the guard to slit his throat.

        Prisoner C grows a beard. He’s new age. He doesn’t do anything to anyone, nor hide anything in his beard. But he’s forced to shave anyway, the innocent broadly tarred by the actions of those around him.


        Prisoner A grows a beard, etc etc. No one is making him shave, so he can hide a shank in his beard. He uses it to stab several cell mates.

        Prisoner B grows a beard, but keeps a shank hidden in a book. He uses it on himself.

        Prisoner C grows a beard, no one is making him shave. He hides food in his beard because the guards are harassing him to the point of starvation and the beard is the one place no one ever bothers to search. (Ok, that’s a stretch, but you get the idea)

        … The point with all of this is that there are risks and benefits to every course of action and it’s the sum total that matters, not just “there’s a possibility someone may hide contraband”. They can also hide contraband in the toilets: I don’t think anyone is going to be removing those anytime soon.

        Note please that this is mostly playing devil’s advocate, as I said I’m not sure which way I’d lean. I am sure though that the question has far more ramifications than you imply. Does shaving make things safer for prisoners and guards, or do they just *seem* safer?

        On point 4… I’m actually surprised that you’re ok with that. I thought for sure you would reveal yourself to be a hypocrite and suggest Bibles should be kept in the prisons. For that, I not only have to say that you have my respect, but also that I find it hard to believe that I can agree with a tea party follower: I’m pretty much left wing (on the right on a minority of issues but mostly lefty left left).

        Actually in thinking about point 4, I’m with a case-by-case conclusion: individual prisoners should be banned from certain actions or items, depending on their abuse of those things. That way those who are (bearded, etc) are not punished for the actions of fellow prisoners who do abuse the system. Let’s not forget that books aren’t just entertainment but education, and access to literature can help reduce recidivism. But in general, yes I agree: safety is paramount and so long as it wasn’t discriminating any particular religion, ban any book that can be used as a container.

        Incidentally, I was hoping that Popehat would touch on this as it’s fairly inline with their themes (first amendment, freedom of expression, and the law), but I see they haven’t. 😦

        … As for your question: I’m in Australia.

        Have a good weekend too.

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