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Appeals Court Upholds Rule Against Growing Beards At Missouri Prison

October 11, 1985

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A Muslim inmate at the maximum-security Missouri State Penitentiary does not have a constitutional right to grow a beard, a divided federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

James Hill, who also uses the name Amin Khatib Muhammad, contended in his suit against prison officials that a beard was a practice of his religion. He filed the lawsuit after prison officials twice refused to exempt him from the regulation prohibiting beards.

A federal judge in Kansas City agreed with Hill and issued an order preventing prison officials from enforcing the regulation.

On appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, former warden Donald Wyrick and David Blackwell, director of the Division of Adult Institutions in the state Department of Corrections, said they did not dispute Hill’s religious beliefs. But the regulation was needed for prison security, they argued.

Growing or shaving a beard is effective in altering one’s appearance, Wyrick said. Because there is a high turnover rate among guards at the prison, the regulation was necessary to identify inmates involved in assaults and escape attempts, he said.

On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit voted 2-1 to overturn the lower court’s ruling, with the majority agreeing that growing and shaving beards posed a security problem.

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