LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge in Arkansas issued a permanent injunction Thursday ordering the state Department of Correction to allow an inmate to keep a beard that he grew for religious reasons.

LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge in Arkansas issued a permanent injunction Thursday ordering the state Department of Correction to allow an inmate to keep a beard that he grew for religious reasons.


Judge Brian Miller issued the injunction in U.S. District Court in Pine Bluff in response to a Jan. 20 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that inmate Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad, cannot be prohibited from wearing a half-inch beard.


Holt filed a federal lawsuit over a Department of Correction policy requiring prisoners to be clean shaven, arguing that he was required by his Islamic faith to have the beard. The state attorney general’s office argued that the policy was reasonable because prisoners could hide contraband in their beards or, alternatively, shave off their beards to disguise their identity in an escape.


The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled in favor of the Department of Correction, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that ruling, saying that enforcing a no-beard policy in Holt’s case would violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, a law intended in part to protect prisoners’ religious rights.


"We readily agree that the department has a compelling interest in staunching the flow of contraband into and within its facilities, but the argument that this interest would be seriously compromised by allowing an inmate to grow a half-inch beard is hard to take seriously," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Supreme Court’s opinion.


Miller said in his injunction Thursday that the department must allow Holt "to wear a beard of up to one-half inch in length."


Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Holt in his lawsuit, said in a statement Thursday, "The Supreme Court decision protects the rights not only of prisoners but of all Americans. When we protect the rights of one religious person, we protect all American citizens, religious and non-religious alike."


Cathy Frye, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction, said that in February the department adopted a new policy that allows any inmate to apply for a religious accommodation if the prison system’s grooming restrictions burden his or her sincerely held religious beliefs. Prison chaplains are authorized to grant the accommodations.