The U.S. Supreme Court seemed ready on Tuesday to allow a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas to wear a half-inch beard for religious reasons, even though a lawyer for the state said the prison’s “security objectives are undermined” by beards.
Justices were dubious, even mocking, during oral arguments on Holt v. Hobbs when Deputy Arkansas Attorney General David Curran said even a short beard could conceal contraband and enable prisoners to change their appearance easily within the prison or if they escape.
Justice Samuel Alito Jr. suggested that prison guards could detect hidden items by handing bearded inmates a comb and asking them to comb their beards out. “If there’s anything in there, if there’s a SIM card in there or a revolver or anything else you think can be hidden in a half-inch beard, a tiny revolver, it’ll fall out,” Alito said, prompting laughter on the bench and in the audience.
“You have no comparable rule about hair on one’s head, where it seems more could be hidden than in the beard,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg added.
And Justice Antonin Scalia sounded incredulous when he asked, “You think something can be concealed within a half-inch beard?” Scalia himself briefly sported a full beard in 1996.
Justices also noted that beards are allowed in the prison systems of 43 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government, with few if any reports of problems