U.S. Supreme Court Takes up Religious Expression Behind Bars

By Marissa Miller and Alexandra Gentille

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to decide what kinds of inmate religious freedoms prison officials can restrict to provide a risk free environment.  On Oct. 7, 2014 the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth District heard a federal case involving a Muslim inmate’s religious freedom and an Arkansas correctional facility’s grooming policy. Gregory Houston Holt, also known Abdul Maalik Muhammad is the plaintiff who brought to court defendant Ray Hobbs the Director of Arkansas’ Department of Correction. The high court was asked to decide whether or not Arkansas’ prison policy which banned Holt’s religious one-half-inch beard complies with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA) of 2000.
Holt has filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas correctional facility where he was detained when they denied him permission to grow out his beard for his Muslim religion. The facility does not allow inmates to have facial hair longer than a quarter inch. An exception to the prison’s policy would only be made if a doctor diagnosed an inmate with a skin condition. Holt used the RLUIPA Act to defend his case.
The RLUIPA Act says that, “[n]o government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution.” The Arkansas prison must prove that its grooming policy is of a “compelling government interest” and is “necessary and narrowly tailored” as described by strict scrutiny judicial review to restrict Holt from having a long beard.
Arkansas prison administrators are likely to argue several persuasive government interests in the Holt v. Hobbs case. They are concerned about lengthy facial hair interfering with serious skin conditions and inmates changing their appearance to escape confines of the prison. Plus, prisoner officials worry about safety and security because inmates could conceal weapons and other contraband in their hair. The Arkansas correctional facility has to figure out if their grooming policy is the least limiting way to deal with inmate beards.
As of today, forty three U.S. states allow prisoners to grow their facial hair. Prisons in those states have not dealt with a large number of challenges that Arkansas correctional facility proposed long beards would cause in jails and among inmates.
In a Holt v. Hobbs brief two timely cases from districts in close proximity to the Eighth are listed under the table of authorities; Yellowbear v. Lampbert and Cutter v. Wilkinsin. In 2013 a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth District  ruled in favor of Andrew Lambert, an inmate who filed a lawsuit against a Wyoming prison because it violated the RLUIPA Act by not allowing him to exercise his Native American religious tradition of using a sweat lodge. In 2005 the Supreme Court of the United States decided that in the Cutter v. Wilkinsin case that an Ohio prison violated the RLUIPA Act because it didn’t “accommodate nonmainstream religions” of inmates.
In the past, prisons had a hard time meeting its burden of showing its policy was the “least restrictive means necessary to further its compelling interest.” Based on cases that have been decided involving the RLUIPA Act in nearby U.S. Court of Appeals District Courts the Eighth district court is likely to rule in favor of inmate, Gregory Holt so he can freely exercise his Muslim religion by wearing a long beard.
Alabama and 17 others states filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in which they support Arkansas prison administrators defense that its inmate grooming policy is needed to have safe space in the correctional facility.
Law professor and legal representative of Holt, Douglas Laycock, said that lower courts have been dismissive of RLUIPA cases. He said that the Holt v. Hobbs case was taken by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth circuit as an opportunity for the high court to take a religious provision of RLUIPA seriously. Alabama Solicitor General Andrew Brasher explained that there is a big difference between religious freedom of individuals in and out of a prison.
Prison officials must maintain order and safety among inmates. Enforcing facility policies is their way of asserting power to keep uniformity. Even though inmates do not have full Constitutional rights, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment applies to prison inmates as well as the Model Sentencing and Corrections Act which gives some protection from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or sex. However, inmates have limited rights to speech and religion.
In the Holt v. Hobbs case the court did not give deference to Arkansas’ correctional facility. The prison’s grooming policy prevented Holt from having a long religious beard which violated his Constitutional First Amendment right of freedom of religion. The U.S. high appellate court must use strict scrutiny judicial review when deciding the case by early in the next year of 2015.
Works Cited
Borkoski, Kali. Shave and a haircut: Prisoner grooming and RLUIPA (Video), SCOTUSblog, (Oct. 5, 2014, 10:55 PM), Web. Oct. 27, 2014. http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/10/shave-and-a-haircut-prisoner-grooming-and-rluipa-video/


Buckley, Ellen. Tenth Circuit: Summary Judgment for Prison Officials in RLUIPA Sweat Lodge Case Vacated, CBA CLE Legal Connection, N.p., (3 Feb. 2014), Web. Oct. 27, 2014. http://cbaclelegalconnection.com/2014/02/tenth-circuit-summary-judgment-prison-officials-rluipa-sweat-lodge-case-vacated/.

Cutter v. Wilkinson. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, N.d., Web. Oct. 27, 2014. http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2004/2004_03_9877.
Denniston, Lyle. Argument report: Trouble at the lectern, SCOTUSblog, (Oct. 7, 2014, 12:46 PM), Web. Oct. 27, 2014. http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/10/argument-report-trouble-at-the-lectern/
Hopkins, W. Wat. “Chapter 3 Conduct and Speech.” Communication and the Law, (2014 ed. Northport, Alabama: Vision, 2014), 46. Print.
Howe, Amy. Beard ban under fire: In Plain English, SCOTUSblog, (Oct. 7, 2014, 5:34 PM), Web. Oct. 27, 2014. http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/10/beard-ban-under-fire-in-plain-english/


Howe, Amy. Court to consider prison beard ban: In Plain English, SCOTUSblog, (Oct. 3, 2014, 12:02 PM), Web. Oct. 27, 2014. http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/10/218456/

No.13-6827 In the Supreme Court of the United States. Gregory Houston Holt A/K/A Abdul Maalik Muhammad, petitioner v. Ray Hobbs, Director, Arkansas Department of Correction, et al., Respondents. On writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Brief for the Petitioner, SCOTUSblog: Supreme Court of United States Blog.com, (May 22, 2014), Web. 27 Oct. 2014. http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/13-6827-ts.pdf

“Prisoners’ Rights.” LII / Legal Information Institute, N.p., n.d., Web. Oct. 27, 2014. http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/prisoners_rights.

Government v. Religion on the Playing Field


By Tasia Morgan

American public schools are institutions where people hold diverse, religious, cultural, and political views. Perhaps the one issue that has generated the most controversy is speech. In East Texas, Kountze High School recently found itself in the conflicts that can occur when government regulations and freedom of religion collide. Whether or not football teams and cheerleaders can promote religion at public school events has stirred up quite a controversy at Kountze High School. After officials of the district banned them from utilizing Bible excerpts in their pep-rally, these students took legal action arguing that their banners are merely an expression of freedom of speech that is supported by their First Amendment right.

While these students have the right to freedom of expression, according to a Supreme Court ruling inSanta Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe – 530 U.S. 290 (2000) the school district does have the power to reinforce the separation between church and state. Therefore, at a public institution, the school district can no longer recognize these banners as freedom of expression because it places an infringement on the rights of those students who do not believe in Christianity and violates the Establishment Clause also supported under the First Amendment. In other words, “…religious messages [become] endorsed by the school, the school district and the local government” which does not implement a fair working environment for those who do not believe in the religion being endorsed (“Faith, Football and the First Amendment”).

As of now, the district court in Matthews v. KISD has granted to plaintiff cheerleaders and football players a temporary injunction so they can keep using the Bible verses. However the full case will be heard in June.

Cases dealing with public school and religion have had a history of different outcomes around the country. For example, in Adler v. Duval County School Board, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided that the “Federal appellate court’s opinion and judgment was reinstated holding that the defendant school system’s policy of permitting a graduating student, elected by her class, to deliver an unrestricted message of her choice at graduation ceremonies was not facially violative of the Establishment Clause” (Adler v. Duval County School Board).  This opinion was strictly enforced for two reasons:

  •          The speech was not subject to particular regulations that confined the topic of the student’s message and
  •          The policy by its terms did not invite and encourage religious messages

Therefore, the Plaintiffs were not being intentionally neglected or ostracized because the school was not directly encouraging the promotion of one religion (Alder v. Duval County School Board). In the case of Indian River School District v. Doe, “the school board had a long-standing policy of praying at its regularly scheduled meetings, which were routinely attended by students from the local school district.” Contrary to the Alder v. Duval County School Board outcome, the Plaintiffs won the case based on the violation of the Establishment Clause. Because the school implemented a policy that required prayer, this without question, violated those who did not practice Christianity (Indian River School District v. Doe).

Using these cases as a reference, the court may likely side with the football players and cheerleaders rather than the side of those students who do not support the banner signs. This outcome is more likely to follow through due to the school’s absence of involvement. The school district or board did not actually request these cheerleaders and football players to display their religious signs nor did they create a policy that enforced the students to do so. Instead, this act was strictly on the basis of free expression, these athletes made the decision to use these excerpts without the intent to exclude others. With this, their form of expression did not force non-Christian students to participate in their religious messages (it was seen, not heard). Essentially, they created these signs to provide inspiration rather than conflict, which is why most people utilize religion in the first place, for guidance.                                                                                                                                                           List of Sources

NY Times Articles

“Faith, Football and the First Amendment – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. The NY Times, 22 Oct. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/22/opinion/faith-football-and-the-first-amendment.html?ref=firstamendment

Fernandez, Manny. “Governor Perry Backs Cheerleaders in Fight Over Religious Banners – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. The NY Times, 18 Oct. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/us/governor-perry-backs-cheerleaders-in-fight-over-religious-banners.html?_r=0

Related Source

“At the Mercy of the Majority | ACLUTx.org – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.” ACLUTx.org – The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, 13 Sept. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.http://www.aclutx.org/2012/09/13/at-the-mercy-of-the-majority/

“Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe.” LII | LII / Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0530_0290_ZO.html

Related Cases

Adler v. Duval County School Board, 250 F.3d 1330; 2001 U.S. App. LEXIS 8880; 14 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 691. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2013/03/18.

Indian River School District v. Doe, 653 F.3d 256; 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 16121. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2013/03/18.

SANTA FE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT v. JANE DOE, 530 U.S. 290; 120 S. Ct. 2266; 147 L. Ed. 2d 295; 2000 U.S. LEXIS 4154; 68 U.S.L.W. 4525; 2000 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4865; 2000 Daily Journal DAR 6477; 2000 Colo. J. C.A.R. 3558; 13 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 425. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2013/03/18.

CAUSE NO. 53526. Hardlin District Clerk. Oct. 18, 2012.


More on Religious Messages in Public Schools…

By John

A high school in East Texas has come under fire for having its football players come out and break through a banner with biblical passages written on them. After an anonymous community member alerted the Freedom from Religion Foundation about the practice at Kountze High School action was taken against the cheerleaders who were spearheading the campaign. There is a trial set for June 24, 2013 and an injunction had been put in place until then to stop them from putting scripture on the banners.

The state has taken the side of the cheerleaders. The Attorney General’s office had a statement saying, “Those banners, which the cheerleaders independently produce on their own time with privately funded supplies, are perfectly constitutional. The State of Texas intervened in this case to defend the cheerleaders’ right to exercise their personal religious beliefs – and to defend the constitutionality of a state law that protects religious liberties for all Texans.”

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe (530 U.S. 290) ruling that schools could not play student led prayers over the intercom before football games. In the “bong hits for Jesus” case,  Morse v. Frederick 511 U.S. 393 (2006)  the Court ruled that schools could punish students for pro-drug messages at a school-sponsored function, even if it isn’t on campus. This may be used as precedent along with the Santa Fe case in which students were using school property and facilities to play the announcements it was seen as the school promoting religion. Morse may be used to show that the school can limit religious speech even if they aren’t promoting it because it conflicts with their interests as a public institution.

It is expected for the courts to be cautious on this matter. The Texas state constitution allows for students to freely express their religious beliefs without discrimination but the issue of allowing for the expression in school complicates the matter. Although the state and the cheerleaders will argue the school isn’t promoting the scripture and that they are doing this on their own, I don’t think the court will rule in their favor. If you look at the reasoning in Santa Fe, the Court said even that in that case the prayers were “on school property, at school-sponsored events” and I think they’ll use this reasoning to disallow the scripture on the banners in

I think this is sound reasoning. The school may not directly be sponsoring the cheerleaders’ actions but it is occurring on their property during a school sponsored event that represents the general student body. The problem is that it isn’t clear if the school is endorsing religion or not by allowing this during a school sponsored event. If it is ruled they are this is unconstitutional. Obviously it won’t be until June before we find out what happens but I think that the banners will be banned.

Civil Liberties Trump Religious Beliefs

By J. Willgruber

CLS v. Martinez

561 U.S. 130 S.Ct. 2971, 177 L.Ed.2d 838 (2010)

Decided: June 28, 2010

In a landmark Supreme Court decision in which the University of California’s Hastings Law School ruled [5–4] in favor of the public law school’s decision not to grant recognition to a Christian student organization. The Christian Legal Society (CLS), a religious student organization at Hastings, filed suit for injunctive and declaratory relief against the university in a California federal district court for violating its First Amendment rights (free speech and free exercise of religion).

Hastings College of Law is a public law school in California that has a policy prohibiting discrimination on the premises of “race, color, religion, national origin, disabilities, ancestry, age, sex or sexual orientation. Leo Martinez is the Dean and Acting Chancellor, Hastings College of the Law.

CLS applied to become a “recognized student organization” but was denied by Hastings. CLS was denied because their “Statement of Faith,” a requirement that every member of the student organization must follow states that “Christians should not engage in sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman,” conflicted with Hastings nondiscrimination policy. Clearly, CLS’s Statement of Faith excludes gays and lesbians; hence the student organization does not accept anyone who engages in “sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.”

CLS allows students to become voting members and to assume leadership positions only if they affirm what the group calls orthodox Christian beliefs and disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.” Such a lifestyle, the group says, includes sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

CLS sued Hastings, asking for no different treatment than is given to any registered student group, thus violating its 1st Amendment rights. The district court granted Hastings summary judgment and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether Hasting’s refusal to grant CLS access to student organization benefits amounted to viewpoint discrimination, which is impermissible under the First Amendment. (CATO Institute, CLS v. Martinez, Feb. 3,2010 Legal Briefs)

In 1993, CLS student chapters started frequently being denied access to meeting space and campus communications because it requires its voting members and leaders to share its Statement of Faith.

The two sides disputed the legal principles involved but also what had happened at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, the defendant in the case. The school merely applied a neutral “all comers” policy to every group that sought official recognition. Recognized groups were entitled to modest financial assistance, use of the school’s communications channels and meeting space as well as the use of the school’s name and logo, as long as all students were allowed to participate in their activities.

Involving a conflict between religious freedom and anti-discrimination principles, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is in the majority. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, said for public institutions of higher education, that it was “constitutionally permissible” to require recognized student groups to accept all students who wished to participate in them. (NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/us/29court.html)
CLS allows students to become voting members and to assume leadership positions only if they affirm what the group calls orthodox Christian beliefs and disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.” Such a lifestyle, the group says, includes “sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The ACLU illustrates the long history of discrimination on university campuses arguing that Hastings has a compelling interest to ensure any recognized and university funded student program is open to all students enrolled at the school. (Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, June 28, 2010, American Civil Liberties Union)

Justice Alito admitted the decision made was a “serious setback for freedom of expression in this country.” The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in favor of Hastings set the precedent for challenging freedom of expression under the First Amendment specifically within the context of student organizations’ rights at universities.

Future cases may or may not see as close of decisions as the search for the middle ground continues to be a daunting task in our country and obviously in our world.

By: Joshua Willgruber

Contact: josh.willgruber@temple.edu


1. http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=11192

2. NY Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/us/29court.html

3. http://www.aclu.org/print/lgbt-rights-religion-belief/christian-legal-society-v- martinez
Additional Sources

1. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/april-16-2010/christian-legal-society-v-martinez/6109/