Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Religious Rights of a Muslim inmate in an Arkansas prison had been violated when he was told he could not grow a beard. The prisoner, Holt, had requested to be allowed to grow and wear a half-inch beard, per his Muslim religious belief. The Arkansas Department of Corrections denied his request, which was not on medical grounds or allowed in 40 other states. Holt filed a lawsuit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which applies to land use and prisons – where religious discrimination is prevalent.
Religious Freedom in the United States applies to all citizens, regardless of their particular religious beliefs or position within society. This case is an example of a prisoner, someone deemed lower in society than others, having his Constitutionally guaranteed Right to freely practice and observe his Religion taken away from him because of his status as a prisoner. Thankfully for Holt, and countless other prisoners like him, the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a law fifteen years ago which deemed that those in prison are no less than those outside of prison when it comes to their First Amendment Rights. And the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the RLUIPA when it ruled in favor of Holt in his lawsuit against the prison system in Arkansas.
Oftentimes, Religious Freedom is forgotten about. It is such an integral part of American life, that it is rarely thought of unless in a situation where it is challenged. But there should be no challenges to this fundamental Right. American’s should have the right to live in a society where their Religious Freedom is respected by all levels of Government. There should be no need for laws to protect inmates from religious discrimination, but, rather, the First Amendment and its guarantee of Freedom of Religion should stand as the only guidepost when it comes to free practice of religion in the United States.