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Defending Prisoners’ Religious Rights

A Message from the Executive Director
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Dear Friends,

You might be surprised to hear that growing a ½ inch beard is controversial. At least, it is if you do it for religious reasons in an Arkansas prison.

Abdul Muhammad is an Arkansas inmate. He wants to grow a short beard, according to the commands of his Muslim faith. The Arkansas prison allows inmates to grow beards for other, non-religious reasons, including medical ones.

Yet, Mr. Muhammad’s simple request, based on his religious convictions, has been denied.

Mr. Muhammad’s beard would be allowed in 44 other state and federal prisons across the country. Arkansas, however, will not allow it.

This is a clear violation of Mr. Muhammad’s rights.

The Becket Fund has stepped in to defend them. Our case, Holt v. Hobbs, has made it all the way to the highest court in the land. Today, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case.

This case rests on the essential understanding that prisoners, too, have a right to religious freedom.

Not only is this right protected by our Constitution, but Congress specifically enacted a landmark statute to protect prisoners’ religious rights in 2000.

Under President Clinton, and with massive bipartisan support, Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). RLUIPA protects prisoners’ right to peaceful religious expressions, defending their inherent human right to seek God.

Prisoners surrender many of their physical rights when they enter prison. But they do not need to surrender their humanity.

Securing prisoners’ human dignity is important in itself, but it also has practical benefits. In fact, protecting prisoners’ right to religious expression has proven to be an incredibly useful tool in rehabilitation. According to the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, there is a visible 12% drop in re-incarceration rates when prisoners exercise their faith.

That alone is a great reason to support religious freedom among prisoners. And if you want to see proof of the effect religious exercise can have on prisoners, watch this video. You will be moved by these men’s stories.

The Becket Fund is committed to defending the religious liberty rights of all Americans.

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