Agudath Israel Hails Ruling as Victory for Religious Freedom —

The Supreme Court ruled today that a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas is allowed to grow a beard in accordance with his religious beliefs, despite a state policy barring beards.  In the case, Holt v. Hobbs, the state had argued that the policy against beards was needed for security reasons.  The Supreme Court rejected that argument by a 9-0 unanimous vote, saying that beards could be searched, and that the policy against beards violated the prisoner’s rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000.

Agudath Israel of America, which had participated along with other Orthodox Jewish organizations in an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on behalf of the prisoner, hailed the decision.  The brief was written by noted constitutional attorney Nathan Lewin on behalf of COLPA, the national Jewish Coalition on Law and Public Affairs.  Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel, stated that the case was “a true victory for religious liberty.”  “More than 40 states allow prisoners to grow beards in accordance with their religious beliefs, and now all states will be required to allow prisoners this religious freedom.  We commend the Supreme Court for its unanimous decision today upholding the scope of religious liberty protected by RLUIPA. We hope that this decision will lead to the enhancement of other religious accommodations for prisoners, including religious dietary and Sabbath and holiday observance.”