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Supreme Court to weigh whether Muslim inmate in Arkansas can wear beard


The Supreme Court has accepted a handwritten plea from an Arkansas inmate who said the prison’s prohibition on beards violates his religious rights. (PAT BENIC/AP)

The Supreme Court accepted Monday the handwritten plea of an Arkansas inmate who said the prison’s prohibition on beards violates his religious rights as a Muslim.

Gregory Holt said the policy of the Arkansas Department of Correction prohibiting facial hair other than neatly trimmed mustaches keeps him from maintaining the one-half-inch beard that he says is a religious obligation.

Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad, based his claim on protections in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 and said Arkansas’ policy is more restrictive than needed to ensure security.

Holt, 38, is serving a life sentence for burglary and domestic battery. His plea got the justices’ attention last year, and the court issued an injunction on his behalf while deciding whether to review his case.

Arkansas responded that the policy is meant to promote hygiene and security. The state said darts and other contraband can be hidden in a beard like the one Holt wants to grow.

The court will add the case, Holt v. Hobbs, to its docket for the term that begins in October. It also agreed Monday to hear four other cases at that time.

One involves whether employees must be paid for the time they spend going through security after their shifts so their employers can make sure they did not steal anything.

The case was brought by Nevada warehouse workers Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, who worked for a company that staffs the centers that fill online orders for the retail giant Amazon.com. (Amazon’s founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, also owns The Washington Post.)

The workers ended their shifts by emptying their pockets and passing though metal detectors. Because the company they worked for, Integrity Staffing Solutions, did not employ enough security personnel to handle the hundreds of workers who ended their shifts at the same time, they said, the wait could be as long as 25 minutes.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said the searches were part of the employees’ workday, and thus the workers should be compensated for their time.

The company and supporters in the business community said the appeals-court decision differed from those in other courts and would set a dangerous precedent.

“In the six months since the decision below was issued, plaintiffs’ lawyers have brought nationwide class actions against a number of major employers — including Apple, Amazon.com, and CVS — seeking back pay (plus overtime and penalties) for time spent in security screenings,” Washington lawyer Paul D. Clement wrote on Integrity Staffing’s behalf.

Ensuring that employees are not stealing cannot be considered part of the workday for which payment is required, the company argued.

The case is Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk.

The court will also consider North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, on the issue of who can offer teeth-whitening services. The FTC had ruled against the state board’s prohibition on anyone other than dentists offering the services.

The court steered clear, without comment, of two other controversies.

It decided not to review efforts by two towns to restrict illegal immigrants from renting houses in their jurisdictions. Lower courts had said the efforts by Farmers Branch, Tex., and Hazleton, Pa., were attempts to take over immigration policies that belong to the federal government.

The justices also refused to revive a case from a German family seeking asylum in the United States because Germany does not allow home schooling.

The couple, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, moved to Morristown, Tenn., because they said the policy of their home country violated their Christian beliefs.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.

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