Holt v. Hobbs and Third Party Harms
CO-AUTHORS Nelson Tebbe
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Richard C. Schragger
In Holt v. Hobbs, the Court unanimously and easily held that Arkansas prison officials cannot bar an inmate from wearing a ½ inch beard that he claims is required by his religion. The exemption to hair grooming standards, the Court held, is required by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which prohibits the government from imposing substantial burdens on religious exercise unless its policies are narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling interest.
Holt isn't a hard case. The prison officials could offer no good reason for restricting the inmate’s beard. The prison permitted slightly shorter beards for medical reasons. And the Court pointed to the fact that numerous other states and the federal prison system permit beards. Moreover, the main reason given for the beard length restriction—that prisoners would hide contraband in a ½ in beard—was implausible on its face.
Richard C. Schragger, Micah J. Schwartzman & Nelson Tebbe, Holt v. Hobbs and Third Party Harms, Balkinization (January 22, 2015).