The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in favor of the religious freedom claims of an Arkansas prisoner, who was blocked from growing a beard in accordance with his Muslim faith by the Department of Corrections.
In a 9-0 opinion the Court ruled that part of the Arkansas prison policy violates a federal statute designed to protect the religious freedom of prisoners, NBC reports.
The Arkansas rule was challenged by inmate Gregory Holt, a Muslim who said that he was forced to choose between violating his religious beliefs and facing disciplinary action in prison.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion that the state has a good reason to try and prevent the concealment of contraband on prisoner’s bodies, but that the Arkansas rule banning beards infringes on Holt’s religious freedom.
“An item of contraband would have to be very small indeed to be concealed by a 1⁄2-inch beard, and a prisoner seeking to hide an item in such a short beard would have to find a way to prevent the item from falling out,” Alito said. “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.”