On Tuesday in the case of Holt v. Hobbs, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of a Muslim inmate in an Arkansas state prison who sought to wear a half-inch beard in accordance with his faith.
“The decision in Holt v. Hobbs is a great victory for religious freedom,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, “because it underscores that each and every person enjoys this basic human right.”
“You don’t lose it if you subscribe to a minority faith, or even if you enter prison — in fact, you never lose it,” Archbishop Lori explained. “That is because, as the Second Vatican Council taught 50 years ago in Dignitatis Humanae, ‘the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person.’”
The Court found that the State of Arkansas could not meet the requirements of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), which forbids the imposition of a “substantial burden” on religious exercise, unless the burden is the “least restrictive means” to serve a “compelling government interest.”
This “exceptionally demanding” test is virtually identical to the one established by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which is the principal basis for the successful federal civil rights lawsuits challenging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that employers cover sterilization, contraception, and drugs and devices that may cause abortion.
In May 2014, USCCB joined other religious groups in filing an amicus curiae brief at the Supreme Court in support of the position that prevailed in yesterday’s decision. That brief is available online: www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/amicus-briefs/upload/Holt-v-Hobb-Arkansas-Dept-of-Correction.pdf