Published On: Wed, Jan 21st, 2015

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Explains The Difference Between Beards in Prison and Hobby Lobby

Ruth Bader Ginsburg.jpeg

According to a unanimous opinion by the Supreme Court, a Muslim inmate is allowed to grow his beard, according to the National Journal. The case, Holt v. Hobbs, dealt with a prison inmate, Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad, was denied by an Arkansas prison to grow a half an inch beard because prison regulations forbade it.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the prison was acting in violation of federal law and the Religious Lands Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by forbidding the inmate from growing a half an inch beard. Justice Samuel Salito dismissed concerns that the prisoner might hide contraband in his beard, because a beard of that length would be unlikely to disguise anything more easily than a regular head of hair, and inmates are not expected to shave their heads. In addition inmates are already allowed to wear quarter inch beards. In fact, not only did Alito dismiss the concern that the beard could be used to hide contraband, but he said it was “hard to take seriously.”

The focus of the ruling was on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s two sentence concurring opinion summing up how the issue of religious rights in  Holt v. Hobbs is fundamentally different from Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, a case in which employers were allowed to refuse giving benefits to employees for birth control in keeping with the religious views of the employers, a decision which was approved by the Court but with which Justice Ginsburg disagreed. Justice Ginsburg wrote, “Unlike the exemption this Court approved in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, accommodating the petitioner’s religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share the petitioner’s belief. On that understanding, I join the Court’s opinion.”

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