Arkansas Must Defend Bar on Beards to Justices

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to review the challenge a Muslim man has brought against the grooming policies at an Arkansas prison.
     Gregory Houston Holt aka Abdul Maalik Muhammad says he must grow a beard as a Muslim fundamentalist, but that the grooming policy for the Arkansas Department of Corrections allows only trimmed moustaches or quarter-inch beards for a diagnosed dermatological problem.
     Holt had filed suit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, but a federal judge in Pine Bluff dismissed the action after learning of the other ways in which Arkansas lets Holt practice his religion.
     The court heard evidence that Holt had a prayer rug and a list of distributors of Islamic material; that he was allowed to correspond with a religious adviser; and that he was allowed to maintain the required diet and observe religious holidays.
     A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit affirmed dismissal this past June, crediting an explanation from Arkansas that its grooming policy helps "prevent inmates from concealing contraband, drugs, or weapons; that an inmate who grew a beard could change his appearance quickly by shaving; that affording special privileges to an individual inmate could result in his being targeted by other inmates; and that prison officials believed the grooming policy was necessary to further ADC's interest in prison security."
     Holt petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, and the justices issued him an injunction in November pending disposition of that matter.
     "Respondents are enjoined from enforcing the Arkansas Department of Correction's grooming policy to the extent that it prohibits applicant from growing a one-half-inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs," the unsigned order states.
     The court granted Holt's petition Monday, extending the inmate's beard-growing privileges. Per its custom, the court did not issue any comment but for the fact that Holt can proceed in forma pauperis.
     Arkansas prison records describe Holt, 38, as a Caucasian inmate at Varner Supermax.
     He was sentenced to life in prison in 2010 for aggravated domestic burglary and first-degree domestic battering. The department describes Holt as a "habitual offender" with prior convictions for first-degree "terroristic threat" and filing a false report.
     The Supreme Court did not issue any comment in granting the board a writ of certiorari Monday, as is its custom.
     In a miscellaneous order later in the day, however, the court amended that order to limit the question on the table. The justices said they will consider "whether the Arkansas Department of Correction's grooming policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U. S. C. §2000cc et seq., to the extent that it prohibits petitioner from growing a one-half-inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs."