The United States Supreme Court has accepted a legal petition presented in an unusual manner: in handwritten form, without the benefit of any lawyer.
The case comes from a convict in the Arkansas State prison system, one Gregory Holt, “aka Abdul Malik Muhammad,” who wants to wear a beard while incarcerated, in accordance with his religion. The prison rules prohibit beards on hygiene and security grounds. Muhammad’s case is interesting. Questions include (and I quote)
- Whether the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ no beard grooming policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
- Whether a 1/2 inch beard would satisfy the security goals sought by the policy.
- Whether the no beard grooming policy violates Petitioner’s First Amendment right to practice Islam as he believes it
How will the Supreme Court rule? On the face of it (no beard pun intended), prisoners’ appeals for court intervention in how they are incarcerated, on the basis of their rights, may seem odd to some. After all, the whole point of imprisonment is to deny the most basic right to liberty, because, presumably, a criminal has denied someone else’s rights.
But in our society, even those guilty of serious crimes and having lost much of their freedom retain certain rights. This stems mostly from our fear of what becomes of us — not the criminals — should we stop respecting every person’s humanity.
It’s also heartening to see a petition rise to the highest court in the land from the very lowest perch without aid of a lawyer or even a computer or typewriter.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.