Federal Judge Brian Miller today permamently enjoined
the Arkansas prison system from preventing a Muslim inmate from growing a beard.
The injunction is an outgrowth of a 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said prison officials couldn't refuse to protect religious freedom on prison officials' say-so.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the inmate, Abdul Muhammad. The injunction embodies a settlement with the state that also includes a new prison rule on beards that comports with those in most other states and also an agreement to pay attorney fees of Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, and the Becket Fund.
The Supreme Court said Muhammad could wear a half-inch beard.
“The Supreme Court decision protects the rights not only of prisoners but of all Americans,” said Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “When we protect the rights of one religious person, we protect all American citizens, religious and non-religious alike.”
On a side note: The Arkansas Times
and others have run lately into arbitrary decisions by prison officials to deny access to inmates for media interviews. They've cited general safety concerns, much as they cited with little evidence in the beard case. Might somebody be willing to mount a legal challenge to arbitrary decisions impinging on a free press and an inmate's speech rights (some of which, admittedly, are constrained by incarceration). Maybe.
UPDATE: The state will pay $134,000 in legal fees in the case.