ON OCTOBER 7th the Supreme Court heard its first religious-liberty case since recognising, in June, the right of some pious employers not to pay for some types of birth control for their staff. This time, in Holt v Hobbs, the aggrieved party is Gregory Holt, a Muslim inmate in Arkansas who says his faith requires him to wear a half-inch beard. Arkansas forbids this, arguing that a beard could be used to hide drugs, blades or telephone SIM cards.
Mr Holt, who was jailed for breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s house and slitting her throat, says he is in a “state of war” with the prison barber. He argues that the ban on beards violates his rights under a law that says prisons may only impinge on inmates’ religious lives if there is a “compelling governmental interest” at stake and they use the “least restrictive means” of pursuing it. He notes that Arkansas allows quarter-inch beards for inmates with skin conditions, and that 43 other states allow them for all...Continue reading